Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great Find

First off, I wanted to thank all of you who have been following along the past week. I have been trying my hand at some travel-inspired posts while I have been at home. I am back in the air on Wednesday though, so actual travels will be back on the blog soon. Also, if there is ever anything you're interested in reading more about, or you have any thoughts on the past week's feature-type posts, I would love to hear from you.

Second, I wanted to share this incredibly cool (I think) book that I found in a bookstore in the Brussels airport. It's a must have for traveling to countries where you know little to none of the language spoken there - would have been great for Argentina. Anyway, it is full of common items that you literally just point to. It's so simple and brilliant at the same time. Wish I'd thought of that. Thanks for stopping by!

Or, if you want to see more of the book you can check out a flip through video here:

Friday, April 29, 2011

What's Cookin?

Bulgarian food, yummy! (Photo from the Mid-Continent Public Library website.)
So this past week, as I was checking out my library account online to see if any of my books on hold were in for me, (I know, I lead an exciting life) I saw a little ad for upcoming courses that they offer. I started looking through them to see what they had going on. I saw one called "Bulgarian Cookery". I figured I would sign myself up for it for a couple of reasons:
  1. I like the word cookery. Even though I don't cook, it's still fun to say.
  2. I could stand to learn a thing or two about Bulgaria - maybe I should add that to my wishlist of trips.
  3. I want to know how they plan to cook in a library. I've been in that branch before and I never saw a kitchen. I am hoping for hot plates, extension cords and toaster ovens. (I'll pack a squirt gun in case things get out of hand - JOKING, no need for a librarian pat down at the door.)
  4. There might be samples and it seems rebellious to eat in a library. I am trying to be a little more rebellious in general, but in a good way like doing things out of the ordinary or unexpected.
  5. The ingredients they listed in the description (nuts, yogurt, fruit, veggies, etc.) are all vegetarian - this makes me think that there might be good Bulgarian recipes that Brian could make for me. (For those of you who wondered about who cooked in point #1.)
  6. We are learning to make a "heart-warming" red stew and I like my food with emotion.
When I signed up it seemed like it might be full but there was a waiting list sign up so if you are free Monday at 7pm and are in Lee's Summit, sign up and join me for what promises to be an hour of educational bliss.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Little Victories

This is probably not very exciting to anyone but me, however, I have just added an 'About Me' tab to the blog. I am proud to say I figured it out without the help of my developer husband. I took a C++ class in college (it was a requirement - who's ever heard of a programming requirement for chemistry majors?). Anyway, that is the extent of my formal knowledge and then I have been managing my work's website for a few years now - by default, gotta love small non-profits where if you have an inkling of a skill you get to wear the official hat. So, if you want to know a little more about me, great and thanks, and if not, that's cool too. As always, thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

AAA: Part II

Continuing from where we left off yesterday, I have been doing some research on what else I can use my AAA membership for, in addition to roadside assistance and trip-tiks. (This is not a paid advertisement, so I am going to skip going into detail about the products and services that I probably wouldn't use, and stick to the things that you might like too.) I also wanted to mention that I discovered a AAA Discounts Android app while researching, which I think could be helpful while traveling to find discounts. I'm adding it to my favorite travel apps list.

Here are the perks I found, in alphabetical order:
  1. Airport parking discounts - in KC they offer 10-15% off at Thrifty and The Parking Spot. I park in the economy lot since it's the cheapest but if you like your parking fancy then this is for you!
  2. Amtrak - save 10% (w/3 day advance purchase). I have never taken Amtrak before but maybe that would be a fun trip idea for the blog!
  3. Attraction Discounts - everything from discounted AMC movie tickets to discount lift tickets in Lake Tahoe to a skip the line ticket at Guinness Brewery in Dublin.
  4. Auto parts - a random 7% discount at Napa Auto Parts. I guess that sort of cancels out tax, woohoo tax-free wiper blades here I come!
  5. Cruises - discount booking and deals. This may come in handy for my next contest. 
  6. Discounts - assorted discounts on online shopping, vacation booking, etc. There is a printable list of discounts so I can keep them all straight.
  7. eTourBook Guides - 30 U.S. cities and growing. (for Kindle, iPad, nook, etc.) I've mentioned my love of travel books before, so this is by far my favorite new feature found - excited to use one.
  8. Hotel Discounts - Varies. I mentioned this in a previous post, but it's worth mentioning again because I think this is one of the more significant ways to actually save money with AAA.
  9. SuperShuttle - $2 each way. Stoked because I have been using this for work lately and anything to save a non-profit money is great! 
So, there you have it, and yes there's more if you want to check it out. I also found that they have a Twitter account - maybe I'll follow along to watch them evolve for the next generation of members. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, April 25, 2011

AAA: Part I

As a kid, my relationship with AAA consisted of trip-tiks (I think that's what they were called) that my mom would order from the local AAA office. They would come in bulky packages in the mail and contained pre-highlighted maps that had the driving route of wherever we were going (always in orange highlighter) along with "fun facts" about the places we would be driving through. I don't remember always appreciating my mom sharing the fun facts, as I recall, but I did learn a lot about tiny towns and rivers as we went along the Eastern seaboard.

When I bought my first car my sophomore year in college - an '87 Pontiac Sunbird - my parents advised me to get AAA for any roadside assistance I might need between Maine and Rochester, NY. And did I ever make use of that! Unfortunately, I broke down every other time I was driving home from school and the repairs ranged from minor to rebuilding part of the engine after it threw some rods or pins (whatever that means). The car was passed along to my brother when I moved out to California after my wedding.

Brian had bought a used minivan in college and we took that to California, stuffed to the ceiling with things that wouldn't fit in our U-Haul that we were driving across country. As the van grew older, and we sunk more money into it, we were saved constantly by the AAA tow truck. Now we have two pretty reliable cars, knock on wood, but we still keep our AAA membership just in case we ever need anything.

I like to get what I pay for, and since I hopefully won't need any tow service soon, I started to think about what else I might be able to get from my membership to AAA*. When I blogged about using it to save money on a hotel reservation a month ago, I vowed to read more about it. Then I saw a commercial today at a restaurant and it reminded me to look into it more. I think I might missing out on some things - as I know they are more than just a tow service and a way to get hotel discounts. Heck, when I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame last week, I saved $2 with my card! Tomorrow I will share what my research turned up. Thanks for checking in!

*This is, as always, my opinion, and I am not being paid by AAA. In fact, I just paid them my annual dues a couple of days ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Move Me

I love movies. I love to travel. So, naturally, I love movies that inspire me to travel somewhere. Having a film school graduate in the house, my husband, also makes for a wide variety of films that we see that depict all kinds of wonderful places to visit. I'd like to share a few of my favorites with you. (In all cases I think the movie and the location are worth checking out, although I haven't made it to all of them yet.)

Movie:  Under the Tuscan Sun  Location Highlighted:  Tuscany  Been there yet?:  Yes  Summary:  If you have seen this movie (about a woman who is trying to find herself and move on from a divorce, or something) you know how beautiful the Tuscan country-side and the warmth of the people are depicted in the movie. I saw this movie way before I had the chance to actually go there, but when Brian's family reunion was scheduled for there a few years back I was so excited to see this movie's setting for myself. It did not disappoint.
Movie: Whale Rider  Location Highlighted:  New Zealand  Been there yet?:  No  Summary: This is one of my favorite movies - visually speaking. The plot is good too - "A contemporary story of love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize." (from IMDb) We briefly discussed going to New Zealand for our 10 year anniversary but we couldn't pull it off with me going back to school. I think it will make an excellent graduation present though!
Movie:  March of the Penguins Location Highlighted:  Antarctica  Been there yet?:  No  Summary: This Academy Award winning film from National Geographic is stunning. The lives of emperor penguins are seen up close and in detail like never before. In my quest to visit all seven continents, I will one day visit here. I found an incredibly awesome, fantastically expensive cruise online once that took you to several places on the continent. I guess when I get to the point where $50,000 for two people is do-able I will book it.
Movie:  Invictus  Location Highlighted:  South Africa  Been there yet?:  Sort of  Summary:  "Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President,  initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the  national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup." (from IMDb) I played rugby in college so I think that, coupled with the fact that Matt Damon was in it, was what drew me to the movie initially. I was also drawn to learn more about the aftermath of apartheid. The scenery was great and I got to see it right before I got stranded there for two days waiting for my flights to get sorted out after my trip to Madagascar. I definitely want to go back again and actually see it properly.
Movie:  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  Location Highlighted:  Savannah, GA  Been there yet?:  Yes  Summary:  This movie has been around awhile (1997) but it's still worth checking out. The first time I saw it I had never really been to "the South" much - maybe just Florida. I remember thinking that moss and vines must just be all over the place. When Brian finished his master's degree I planned a trip to Savannah and Charleston. We stopped at a bunch of the places in the film and I felt the movie all around.
Movie:  The World's Fastest Indian  Location Highlighted:  Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah)  Been there yet?:  No  Summary:  First off, I will say this this movie is one of my favorites, but when Brian got it on Netflix originally I resisted. I thought it sounded kind of dumb - I was wrong (I can admit that every once in awhile). So the movie follows the true story of an older guy trying to break a land-speed record on his motorcycle at a race at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He comes from New Zealand (which is also shown) but I had never really seen anything like the Salt Flats before. I am not sure how cool they are to just look at, since it's lot of wide open space, but someday I am going to find out.
What movie inspired you to go somewhere? Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Offsetting

As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I sometime feel wasteful to be traveling around as often as I do (especially my 32 mile each way commute to work). If you have read a travel article, magazine, etc. in the past couple of years, the concept of off-setting your carbon footprint has been popular and debated. One website Carbonfund.org gives you a cool option of calculating how much you "owe" the environment for the travel (or other activities) you do.

I think it's a good way to get people thinking about the impact they have on the world - regardless on their views about global warming. Simply put, the debate comes in with how the money actually fights off the effects of the carbon emissions. Because, you know, the environment doesn't have a checking account.

With Earth Day coming up on Friday, I thought I would share some of the other ways you could use to offset your footprint. It's a place to start, but I know I could do a few more things. I'd like to think that with constant everyday efforts I can make a dent in reversing my own travel pollution - but I guess we'll see. Maybe if you add one or two as well, I'll be even.

1. Composting. This is new for us, we've been doing it for about 7 months or so. In fact, we haven't actually produced any compost yet - but I think it's getting close! The can to the left sits on our counter which reminds Brian and I to put things in there and the actual compost ball sits on our porch and spins around to mix it all up. I feel like we throw away so little now between this and...
2. Recycling. I know it's been around forever, but based on the number of bins I don't see outside my neighbor's houses (no judgment here, honest) I think it's okay to remind ourselves that it is important and can have a huge impact on your waste stream. I would always suggest making sure the things you throw in the bin are really recyclable because if it's trash mixed in it could all get dumped in with the trash. It's different in every city and sometimes there are drives to collect things like electronics.
3. Garden. I wish I could say that I grew these - or that I garden - but I do not. A bunch of my friends do and I like to hear their stories - including those of my friend Amy who shares tips. I just like to encourage people to garden and I am happy to help them when they grew too many tomatoes.
4. Driving a fuel efficient vehicle. I realize that biking would be better, but I do have that long commute. I have started working from home one day a week to cut down my emissions a little bit. I might try for two days once the fall hits. I really love my Nissan Altima Hybrid - I like to try to make the remaining fuel miles on the odometer go backwards - I know it, I'm a nerd, and I also know that that doesn't make sense unless you've seen it.
5. CFCs. I don't like hearing the same thing over and over, it's something I am trying to develop more patience for, so I am not going to regale you with a message about using CFC lightbulbs. What I will say is that you need to recycle them. This is a box in my garage where I collect dead ones to be taken to Home Depot for recycling. They have enough mercury in them to be harmful in a traditional trash can.
6. Reduce usage of appliances. This is my clothesline. It's not original but it is a little renegade as it is apparently against our Homeowners Association. I have an environmental argument saved up in case anyone challenges it. This weird metal thing came bolted to the porch when we bought our house so I thought I would reuse it for something useful.
7. Shop local. Shopping locally is good for two reasons - and probably a lot more. One, you travel less and hopefully the items you are buying also are traveling less to get to you. Two, you are supporting local people who care about doing things for your local community. I can't wait for our local farmers' market to open - next Saturday! (Also, I love this ornament that hangs on my bulletin board in my office.)
Finally, I don't eat meat anymore. I think that is helping my health (because hot dogs twice a week a couple of years ago was normal for me) and the environment. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Magnetic

This very sun-faded magnet has been on my fridge for years. I love the quote* and I love the scene. I'm not sure where it came from but I have had it forever. The strangely faded colors and the difficult-to-read lettering are true to it's form - not due to a crappy photo. I have often thought of myself as the lady in the center - laughing away on a cool boat with a sweet hat and some good friends. Perfect. Thanks for checking in!
*In case the quote is too hard to read, I didn't want you to miss out. It is: "You only live once, but if you work it right once is enough." ~ Joe E. Lewis

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Nashville Sunday

Last night a few of the HON staff and I went out to The Patterson House. It came highly recommended by one of the HON gals who said their hand-crafted cocktails were amazing. She wasn't lying. I had a El Diablo margarita that came with an amazing rectangular block of ice that ran the length of the glass. (I realize it might be a little weird to be obsessed with the type of ice used - but if you consider the thought that goes into that you can imagine the rest of the details incorporated.) The food was delicious and the conversation non-stop, just how I like it.

Josh's drink - a bacon infused whiskey beverage - came with a giant ice sphere.
This morning I met up with the two YVC AmeriCorps members and their boss for a yummy diner breakfast at Noshville. I had a New York style bagel and some fruit. We wrapped up our site visit and headed our separate ways for what turned out to be a beautiful day. Not sure where this weather was hiding yesterday but today was exactly the kind of day that I blogged about a few posts ago.


I headed off to so something Nashville-y since I had some time to kill before my flight tonight and went to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I like some country music but I had been told you didn't need to be a huge fan to enjoy it. I learned about the entire Willams' family (Hank, Hank, Jr., Hank III) on the giant second floor exhibit of the  and almost cried watching the Johnny Cash music video for "Hurt". I can't believe I haven't watched that before - so good.

I know, I'm such a girl, but this dress (worn by Carrie Underwood) was so pretty in person I couldn't help to include it, this photo doesn't do it justice but taking photos through glass is hard y'all.
One of my favorite parts of the Hall of Fame was the gift shop. Their selection of vinyl was impressive and I was excited to see The Civil Wars representing on the rack! I am going to see them in Lawrence on Friday which made this even more fun to see.
After the museum I headed off for lunch at a place that Josh, owner of the drink above, had recommended I try out. It was spicy and yummy.

I had the sweet potato tacos with pineapple salsa, served with rice and beans.
For the rest of the afternoon, I have been sitting in the Ugly Mugs coffee shop, working on things and enjoying the breeze. Thanks for checking in and hope you have a great week!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nashville Spirit

1. Only in Nashville would you find cowboy boot galoshes, so cool! 2. It was so cold and windy that some of the veggies we planted had to be insulated in the hopes that they don't freeze overnight. 3. Jessica, one of the Youth Volunteers plants a blueberry bush at Rocketown - a cool hangout for area teens. 4. Old tires were fashioned into planters for flowers at the Rocketown garden.
Global Youth Service Day, which engages youth in over 100 countries around the world in service during the same weekend, was a big hit in Nashville. With kids from across the city, the Youth Volunteer Corps of Nashville (sponsored by HandsOn Nashville) we kicked off another project in their Fit 2 Serve series with a wake-up Zumba class. The youth scattered to seven different gardening sites to plant vegetables to help with urban food deserts (where people lack access to fresh and healthy foods) and increase the nutrition quotient in a state that ranks 49th for childhood and adult obesity. Job well done everyone!

Digging a hole for a raspberry bush. Photo by J. Michael Krouskop.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nashville Style

Some people go on pilgrimages to baseball stadiums, others track lighthouses, me I like some good design and fashion. When I saw on Twitter that Anthropologie was opening an accessories only store I was psyched and added to my itinerary for the weekend. I flew in this afternoon and had lunch at the mall where the store was. I figured, hey, I'm here might as well check it out. (For those of you who don't know, I am trying to buy nothing this year, which mostly has meant that I limit any temptation to shop, but I have a weakness for new and limited things so I had to go.)

Anyway, for you fans out there, the Anthro Accessories Store did not disappoint. I would've taken better photos than the ones below but I think they probably already thought I was a little weird for taking cell phone photos. I may have bought things because of that - I didn't want to look like a total nut job.

Nashville souvenirs (necklace left, sandals right). Is Nashville exotic enough for souvenirs? Sure!
After trekking to the mall, I headed downtown to happy hour at the Listening Room to meet up with the HandsOn Nashville staff, great people. We had a great time eating, laughing, talking, listening to music and drinking the new Jameson Honey Whiskey (or something like that). Naturally after dinner I went to a contra dance. All in all, another good night in Nashville. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coming Soon!


As you may know from my New Year's post - I want to do another blog contest. I had so much fun with the Blog Winner Weekend that I couldn't wait to do something fun like that again. The first contest celebrated my 100th post and I am rapidly approaching #200. I have a couple of ideas but I thought it would be more fun to give you the opportunity to weigh as well. Please comment below with your favorite choice! (To the best of  my budget's abilities, I will cover the costs for the ideas below. The idea will be similar to last time in that I will have an adventure with you.)
  1. I come to visit you and we go on an adventure that you plan. 
  2. Someone joins me for a good old-fashioned road trip.
  3. We try out either a listen-to-a-seminar-win-a-free-vacation deal or one of those extremely too-good-to-be-true travel deals that comes through my fax machine at work.
  4. We take a funky off-season cruise together - Alaska in December? Woohoo!
  5. We explore a new place that neither one of us has been before!
Once an idea is decided on more details will be posted. Thanks for playing and reading along!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Full of Brightness


Did you ever have a family friend or casual acquaintance who ever talked about being a Fulbright Scholar? I have vague recollections of hearing about this program in passing over the years. I even knew a couple of people who had participated but I really didn't know much more about it. It just sounded like some cool international extension of a college degree program. I hadn't thought about the program in awhile.

Then I started thinking more about how I will ever get enough legitimate, international work experience without having any experience working internationally - you know that fun work before experience - experience before work cycle I'm sure. I started looking into some options, using ridiculous strings of search phrases in Google to get started and came across a couple of items including the website for the Fulbright Scholar Program.

The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and you go through a fairly rigorous and competitive application process. If selected, you get to go and do some kind of work in an area that the country is needing in some sort of partnership with a local university for roughly ten months and get paid a stipend and your spouse can come along to most of the places.

(I realize anyone from the program might cringe at this simplistic view, but that is what I walked away remembering.) I started searching through the country catalog to see what countries didn't have a bizarre language requirement, would let Brian come along and had an area of work that I could/would want to do. I had a list of about 40 places when I was done.

I had the chance to meet some Fulbright staff at their booth at SXSW and ask some more questions, which was very helpful. I think there is more information on the website than I could possible get through alone so I signed up for a free webinar that will take place tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. Things that might be interesting to you:
  • you don't have to be a student to go 
  • there are lots of countries and disciplines represented 
  • it's a wonderful way to have paid work experience if you are looking to work or just explore things internationally
I am not planning to apply to go until after school is over in two years, but if you know me at all, you know I like to plan ahead. If you are out there reading and you've done this program before, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whoosh!

I've started working from home on Mondays. This has been fantastic because I save about two hours of driving time - which allows me to get more done personally and professionally - and have an unorthodox start to my week. The Sunday dread doesn't exist when I know that I will wake up and go about my day how I want to. Showers are optional, lots of food options are at hand and I can have a quiet or loud day depending on whether I want to crank the stereo up or not.

The only downside is that I can sometimes work without noticing how fast the time is going. Normally the rhythm of people at work allows me to mark time during the day - when they come in, eat lunch, start leaving, etc. Today I forgot to eat lunch and was wondering why I felt like I was going to pass out at 4pm. I drank an Ensure and kept on going.

I have been starting my new work-at-home-Mondays by watching a couple of inspiring TED talks. Today's were on reinventing education through the work being done at the Khan Academy and the creative utility of poetry. I love how TED is putting their talks out there for free, such great contribution to the public. And such a great way to start off my week. I also stumbled across this video on one of the marketing blogs I've started reading - check out the video on today's post.

During the day I got an email from Start Some Good about my proposal to raise funds for the summer camp I am working on for July 2012 for Lott Carey Mission School in Liberia. I needed to make some additions and as soon as I did my proposal was approved. Now I need to figure out the ins and outs of creating a campaign in order to launch it but the idea is that the general public will decide whether or not to fund the project in a crowdfunding format.

Once the idea is posted people can read about the project and decide whether or not to contribute to it. If enough people decide that they will pledge and the campaign reaches the "tipping point" we will raise money. If they don't, we won't get any money but we still would have raised some awareness of the project. Since there is a lot of competition, the success will be on how well the campaign is marketed, so I wanted to mention it here so you're all ready with your pledges when the campaign starts. ;)

I also got a call today from a friend about doing a talk on staying involved with service after you're done serving as an AmeriCorps member. I am excited to have the opportunity to do that in May - I already have lots of ideas on what to share.

Finally, this week is National Volunteer Week and it will end with Global Youth Service Day, which all of the programs I work with across the country and Canada will be involved in. I am excited to be serving in Nashville on an urban gardening project. More on that to come! Thanks for checking in, have a great week!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Is Finally Here!

After many long months of winter I think the arctic has melted here in Missouri. This weekend was beautiful, although it would have been nice to just have some medium weather instead of 40 degrees all the way to 90 degrees. We didn't have any official plans for the weekend - love that - so we opted for some Kansas City fun. Last weekend I had come across a newer edition of the Day Trips from Kansas City book than the one I have at the bookstore and had leafed through it.

I noticed some new places and some old places. I was curious to see what replaced some of the attractions that I know have closed since my edition was printed. I was sad that they hadn't included one of my favorite Northland breakfast spots - Ginger Sue's (in Liberty). Maybe it will be in the next version. Since I had started thinking about going there last weekend we decided to go this weekend.
Delicious banana pancakes with peanut butter, yum!
After breakfast we headed over to Brian's brother's house to say goodbye to him and Sarah, our sister-in-law. They are moving to Dallas on Tuesday. After spending some quality time with the family we headed to Power and Light and had some lunch (ingredient), window shopped, watched a movie (AMC 6 - "Limitless") and had dinner at a new sushi place (Drunken Fish).
The rooftop patio at the Drunken Fish. A great view of downtown. Will definitely have to come back with my co-workers for a happy hour.
The White Tiger roll (their #2 seller) is amazing - it's like a whole meal, so filling. The happy hour prices are great and I love a place that has them on Saturdays too!

Friday, April 8, 2011

And the Beat Goes

My list of upcoming trips (seen to the right) has now grown to 10. People often ask me if I get tired of traveling - there have been many trips over the past few years - but the truth is that it is exciting for me. I may be delusional - and for that insight you could ask Brian - but I think I am more well-adjusted when my surroundings are changing a little bit all the time. I love seeing new places, having time to reflect while doing life on the road and feel a sense of freedom getting to have adventures that usually are related to work or goals for my life in general.

The best thing about the trips I have planned is that Brian Beard* will be on at least three of them with me! Traveling with B.S.B. is a lot of fun. He, as in many other aspects of our life, is the total opposite of me. He brings with him his laid-back attitude and just rolls with everything as it comes. To any outsider I am sure we look like the Odd Couple, which I guess sometimes we are, but we have a good time together.

Traveling with Brian is a little like this:  I walk fast through the airport while Brian takes his time and shows up to the gate ten minutes after I do. I pack snacks, things to read and pack my iPod with things to watch and Brian takes a nap. I get into the rental car plug in all the adapters, chargers, GPS, etc. and check for scratches while Brian is somewhere getting the bags and using the restroom. I have an agenda while Brian sees things along the way that look neat.

The best thing is that Brian encourages me to stray from the itinerary when he knows I am tired and never makes me feel bad about missing something that we thought would be really great to do - even if we've already paid for it. It kills me to do that, but I am thankful for him stepping in. It's nice to have someone to save you from yourself sometimes. Thanks Brian Beard, you're the best!

*Brian is my husband for those of you new to the blog.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Traveling App-ly

I posted about my favorite tech related travel items awhile ago and it was one of the favorites listed on the blog for awhile. I thought it might be fun post again with a related topic, this time about my favorite travel apps. Depending on who you are, I realize that we may be getting a little burned out on apps and talking about them but I am bothering to mention these ones here because they actually help me travel better. Maybe you'll even find a new one to download that could help you out too. Here goes:

Many people are familiar with Kayak - as it is great for comparing fares across carriers quickly and even includes other discount travel aggregating websites. What I love it for is that when I get in a moment of impulsively wanting to plan another trip somewhere I can quickly estimate the cost and help make a well-informed decision wherever I am.
Yelp. (I am sure the were going on a sort of "help for you" play on words when naming this and I like it.) It's great for finding restaurants and reading pretty accurate reviews - I know this from not always following advice and wishing I had. It's also great for finding ATMs, gas stations and other places that stock items you may have forgotten at home.
Food Spotting. I think this is kind of new, but I could be wrong. I discovered it at SXSW. It's kind of fun. People basically just upload photos of their food at different restaurants that are nearby to your current location. That seems to be it.
Google Maps. This is a no-brainer pick, I know. But I love it and I use it constantly. I never use my GPS device anymore, just my phone. So it lightens my bag (no device or extra charger required) and helps me know how to avoid traffic, construction, etc. which I love.
I swear I am not that obsessed with food (this is my third related pick) but it is one of the fun things about traveling. I like OpenTable at home and on the road because I love having a reservation, period.
Finally, this isn't an app yet but hopefully it will be soon, if the start up phase goes well. Planely allows you to enter in your upcoming flight information and if someone else is on that flight and registers through Planely too you will get introduced before the flight and can arrange to sit together. It only seems to have Southwest flights so far - which makes sense since you have the ability to pick your seat. I think it could be fun, especially if you are on your way to a conference or something where it would be nice to know someone ahead of time.
So, that's my list. Any favorites of yours that I missed? I would love to hear about them. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Slow Rewind

Our Azafady team.
It's hard to believe that a year ago I was camping out in the bush of Madagascar. It seems like only yesterday that I was waking up to the clang of a spoon on the pot of breakfast rice. Days filled with cultural discoveries (both African and British), beautiful sunsets and projects that would hopefully leave a lasting impact. So much has transpired since then - for me and the country. The presidential elections that were supposed to have taken place last year are now set for May 5th - hopefully they will happen. I have kept in touch with some of my travel mates over the past year but haven't heard much about the village we lived in. I hope everyone is doing well.

As I look back on events, adventures, conferences, etc. that I have been part of recently, I keep coming back to this idea that I wish I had a magical device to help me process them. My device would allow me to see the whole experience, take out the important lessons that I need to hold onto and file them away neatly in my brain to be called upon in the future when needed. I realize that this doesn't exist and that life is just messy and sometimes you don't get to know what mattered until much later on. Either way I hope it's true that you can continue to grow brain neurons by having new experiences because I plan on having a few hundred more. Cheers!

Jana took this amazing photo on a walk back to camp.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pondering the Plight

I was reading an article yesterday about the hardships that the Ivorian refugees are facing in Liberia - lacking adequate food, water, medical care, etc. and how Britain is pledging to step in and help. Today I read about how the conflict in the Ivory Coast could start crossing the border into Liberia. I thought about how many Liberians were still displaced from the war that ended there in the middle of 2003. Even if they have made it back home, many do not have the resources to rebuild.

Houses built out of pieces of what used to be Hotel Africa in Liberia. With no zoning laws currently being enforced, people are building wherever they can find an open clearing.
Other wars in western Africa have taken place within recent years and have left countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire vulnerable to the demands of rebuilding - while still trying to meet the needs of housing multiple groups of refugees from various conflicts. It is overwhelming to think about where to begin to support the efforts that are being made to pick up the pieces. I think the best thing we can do is be aware of what is happening. This is hard for me as I don't like to dwell on things that I feel powerless against but to ignore it is worse.

I've also thought a lot about how long it will take for things to get better. When we were in Liberia, Emile said that it would take generations to heal from the war. I looked at the faces of the children after he said that and felt sad that they would never know a completely carefree life full of hope and possibility - like they would have had without the 16 year war. I think those of us who have never known war at home have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Holey Crap!

Maybe it's just me, and I think I've gone off on this tangent before, but I would always rather be safe and delayed four days than the alternative. If you haven't been following the recent Southwest debacle - aka "hole ripping open on top of plane and allowing passengers a view of the sky" - then you might also not be following along their great string of Twitter updates on the progress of the inspections - of the 737s that have been grounded - and flight status updates. I love the transparent nature of this whole operation as it makes me feel like they care, although I do understand that the problem is being blamed on the inspection schedules and "the stresses involved with their frequency of short-haul flights".

I think we can all agree that the problem of aging/overusing planes is not limited to any one carrier. Haven't you gotten on a plane before and wondered what decade you were entering? The estimated loss for Southwest, due to the cancellations, is being estimated in the millions. But think about what this is doing, or should be doing for their PR department. Their voluntary inspection process shows me that they care enough about their company, customers, staff, etc. to not fly planes that may scare the crap out of their passengers and potentially put them at a lot more risk than that. They are also taking the opportunity to be open and honest about what is really going on which I think is admirable.

I realize that given the circumstances they didn't really have much of a choice in owning up to what happened but I'd like to think that businesses sometimes have our best interests in mind because those are the qualities that build customer loyalty, support and goodwill.

In the meantime during the SW news frenzy, I am reading people's complaints about the inconvenience, their annoyance and the downright anger towards Southwest for taking the planes temporarily out of service. I realize how frustrating it can be to get stuck but really people? I would always rather be safe than dead. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happiness

My friends Mike and Vanessa are embarking on a month long "Song of the Day" blogging challenge. They are setting a theme for each day and so far I have been highly entertained and in agreement, two of my favorite things! Today's theme was about songs that make them happy. It made me think of things that make me happy - one of which you already know from reading along. I took a picture yesterday of something else that makes me really happy:

I love books and I love travel books even more. I realize that they go out of date quickly, are usually just used for one great trip and donated to the library, but they are a place to start an adventure.
Since I've gotten started, I also love:
  • 75 degree weather w/a slight breeze
  • getting good things for free
  • catching up with someone I haven't seen for a long time
  • finishing a big project
  • sleeping in and feeling rested on a Saturday and then realizing that it is only 7am and you have a whole day ahead of you
  • trying something new that you realize you love
  • laughing so hard you pull a muscle
  • being able to help someone through something hard and making out the other side still friends
  • finding something you forgot you had that you needed
  • that exhausted feeling you get after a good workout or a long day of doing physical labor
  • making music
  • the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing
  • looking at old photographs of my immediate family
  • drinking the perfect mocha (thank you Hi Hat)
  • taking a nap on Sunday afternoon (going there after I post this)
I could go on but I think you get the idea. Hope wherever you are you can think of a few things that make you happy too.