Monday, May 30, 2011

Aftermath

Reading the paper on Saturday, I came across heart-wrenching stories about brave men who sheltered their wives bodies during the Joplin tornado and perished in the process. I had to move. After finding the website for the United Way of Greater St. Louis' 2-1-1 website Saturday, we quickly had our assignment. We drove down this morning with our friend Derrick and cleared debris, sorted it into piles for proper disposal and had a first-hand look at what 200 mile/hour winds can do.

It was devastating and sad. We talked to a home owner who only wanted her clothes and shoes and said the rest was worthless. Her neighbor's grandson was trying to find valuable coins and marbles in the rubble. It looked like a bomb had gone off, or a war had taken place. Cars were flattened. Tiny closets where people had hid without basements were shown to us. It was hard to see people's lives so disrupted by the terror of the storm.

Hunkering down in my own basement this week, with tornado sirens going off, I realized how real this all is. I was pretty sure that I would be okay, but it made me think of what was going through people's minds as they waited out the storm touching down all around them. I will be going back on Saturday, June 11 if anyone wants to come with me. (We'll do what we did today and drive down and back in the same day.) If you would like to make a donation you can do so here. Here are some photos of the day:

This is what the house we were cleaning up looked like a little over a week ago (from Google Earth).
The house after the storm. Volunteers were lovingly trying to save every scrap of anything that looked personal. The elderly owners survived and just got out of the hospital.
A business we passed on our way to the work site.
Derrick
The second house we worked on. The owner survived, hiding in a closet. We met her.
Being safe like my daddy taught me, respirator style!
Seeing my husband helping others makes me love him even more!
So many cars were just tossed around in the tornado.
I was highly impressed with the organization of the day's project. From the sign-up to the check-in process to the water/food trucks driving around to feed and water the volunteers, the day couldn't have been better. It's not easy to process as many people as I saw walking around, my hat is off to the United Way of Greater St. Louis!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Keepsakes

I like to keep track of my photos, mementos and currency from my trips but I lack the time and discipline to always do a proper scrapbook. My friend Kristin had given me a sweet solution for my Madagascar stuff but I still need to finish putting the mini-book together, which I will get to one of these days. In the meantime, I discovered a great product through my SXSW swag - SMASH journals - that I wanted to share with you. I have been waiting forever for the full sized ones to come out and they just came in the mail this week. (I may have gotten a little carried away and ordered two and pretty much every tiny accessory they make for them.) They have a blog and there is a great video that I wanted to post here in case you are interested in learning more:



In celebration of all things creative I am giving away the "Retro Style" journal. Just comment on this post (leave first and last name) and I will do a random drawing next Saturday. (I really like giving things away, if you can't tell!) Have a great holiday weekend! We're heading to Joplin to help out on Monday just for a short shift with the St. Louis AmeriCorps team at MO Southern State University, if you're interested check out the United Way's 2-1-1 website for positions.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Internet Effect

A couple of days after my travel agent encounter, I was listening to a Planet Money podcast about the effect the internet has had on the music industry. This is a fairly well-known argument - especially for my musician friends. The ease of sharing music (legally and illegally) has cut into the bottom line of many musician's paychecks. The podcast made me think that I meant to share the last part of my conversation with the two travel agent's we met on Monday.

It may seem like an obvious question, but I asked them what the effect internet booking had had on the travel agent industry in general. Their response was that it had hit them pretty hard. The ease of research, booking options and the fact that people like me didn't know that I could use their services for free, have not added up to a win for travel agents across the globe. The fact that I know many former travel agents should have been my first clue, I guess. But, I still drive by travel agencies on my way around town, so I figured I might be missing something, maybe I had it all wrong, hence my experiment.

The thing that gets lost is the human interaction of course, or worse you're relegated to calling customer service numbers to fix problems or you just get annoying rescheduled-your-trip-just-thought-you'd-like-to-know emails popping up in your inbox. It's kind of nice to have someone that takes care of that layer for you or at least explains in layman's terms what's going on with your reservations. And it's nice to just talk to people in general, especially when they have knowledge they are willing to share with you.

I am not anti-internet, obviously, as there are millions of benefits, but there are some things that are going away that might be sad to lose for good. Just sayin', it's just not the same to Skype your best friend for coffee. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Travel Agent Virgin: Part II


After our conclusion yesterday that a cruise would not fit into our available window, the travel agent suggested a general trip option instead of a cruise. (This was helpful, as I tend to be single-minded at times and it was a great suggestion. Why stress out about smooshing the wrong trip in just to say we went on a cruise?) Since I am always in pursuit of a new country, I was all in when an all-inclusive in Jamaica got suggested. The cost for roundtrip airfare, transfers and the all-inclusive resort was far more reasonable than I was expecting - and our flights are at normal times! Our goal was to relax, and even though I will have to fight off the urge to find some volunteer work nearby, I think we'll be able to do that. It won't be a cruise, but it definitely fits the off-season bill - Jamaica in late June/early July? Yes please!


So, we'll be staying at a Holiday Inn in Montego Bay - not the fanciest place but budget friendly. We'll be out exploring most of the time, most likely. They have five restaurants, free use of self-powered boats, adults-only pool, etc. The reviews on Tripadvisor were mixed to say the least - ranging from two rats in their room to most amazing place ever! I usually take reviews with a grain of salt because we're all looking for different things, right? It's ranked 21st out of 64 places to stay in Montego Bay- so we're middle-of-the-road. I am sure we'll be fine either way and we'll have fun stories to tell guaranteed, no matter who our extra roommates might be.


I'm just glad we both had valid passports handy because we leave in 38 days!!! Thanks for checking in!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Travel Agent Virgin: Part I

Michelle and I had our first travel agent experience earlier today. We met with Casey from Ambassador Travel* in Lee's Summit. Casey was expecting us, so when Michelle and I wandered in with the realization that between our two crazy calendars we only had two weeks in common before December, she was cool under pressure. As Casey looked through the possibilities, it became clear that it was going to be very difficult to swing a cruise in our narrow dates to places other than Mexico, which we've both been to.

Since I am always in pursuit of a new country, I was all in when another idea got suggested. Check out the blog tomorrow for the details on where Michelle and I are headed!

Through our meeting with Casey, and with some additional tips from her fellow travel agent, Cheryl, we learned some great things to pass along to all of you. You can of course book things on your own, and I will probably still do that for regular things, but it could be fun and a better trip with some expert advice - especially if you don't like to do research. (I have to confess that I was a little nervous before the meeting that I wouldn't enjoy it and I would still need to say something nice, but I have really enjoyed the process so far - and we were there for two hours!)

Reasons to utilize a travel agent:
  1. Pay in installments - kind of like lay-away. Book a trip, put down a small deposit and pay along the way prior to your trip. No interest, no hassle.
  2. Agents have access to travel tools that you don't. They said, "Would you go to a dentist who didn't have dental tools? Why go on a vacation without the help of an agent?" Touché!
  3. When you get in a jam, stuck, have problems in general, etc. your agent will deal with the hassles for you. Nice!
  4. 9 times out of 10 you pay nothing to utilize their services. Only to book a single plane ticket would you pay them anything - and even then it's small ($20 domestic, $25 international). All the online services are charging you booking fees too and everyone pays the taxes so it's no loss to book through an agent. I am thinking about using this for group travel to Liberia next summer.
  5. If you ever need to file a claim with your travel insurance, they'll take care of the paperwork. We all hope to never need to do this, but it happens and if it does who wouldn't want some help with this?
  6. Even if they don't know a lot about where you want to go, they have an accessible network of people who do who can provide recommendations.
  7. They help you through the info overload out there. When I started looking through cruise info originally, I was totally overwhelmed, this is a much easier option if you know the basics of what you want - and even if you don't, that's fine too!
  8. Price matches - in many cases they can match the prices you find online and give you the real bottom line price of what everything will cost. They have access to agent versions of many of the online discount travel search engines we all use.
  9. Promo codes - they can save you a little extra money with a magic code! I always like an extra coupon code!
*Special thanks to Ambassador for being open to this idea. They book all travel, not one thing in particular, so check them out if you need some help!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fragile

Yesterday I drove past a fatal traffic accident on my way to see our good friends' new baby, only 8 hours old. Someone had run a red light and killed the driver of the car that had the right of way.

This week I was driving back from Wichita for 3 hours in the rain. The roads were fairly empty but a small error and I could've been sliding off the road or hit a puddle the wrong way and flipped myself over.

Every time I get on a plane I always recall my mom telling me once that the most dangerous parts of the flight are take-off and landing. I always pray extra hard during those moments.

I'm not a pessimistic person, but I have thoughts sometimes about how at any moment my time on earth could come to an end and that would be it. In the meantime, I want to try and make it count. Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let the Games Begin

I love planning the trip as much as going on it. I started to research options for our off-season cruise by checking out this article and researching fares online. It looks like we're headed for somewhere in the Caribbean or the Bahamas if we're going this summer - which I think we will be. No need to delay the fun until it starts snowing in Alaska! I can honestly say that as a fair-skinned, Irish girl, this region has never been on my list of destinations to check out. For most of my life, I have thought of the Caribbean/Bahamas as a group of islands that get hit by hurricanes and where I would be destined to get a horrible sunburn.
Last June, when my friend Stefanie got married in Miami, Brian and I had ventured down into the Florida Keys, which I know is probably not technically Caribbean, but similar in my mind. I found myself liking it more than I thought I would and with the invention of spray-on sunscreen, it's way easier to constantly apply without greasing up my hands. The laid back, have-a-margarita-at-ten-in-the-morning vibe didn't hurt either. I think it would be fun to get to Key West on the cruise since I hadn't made it that far last June. We'll see!

On Monday I am going to meet with a travel agent to get things going. I have never used a travel agent before so I thought it would be fun to bring a little series to the blog called "Travel Agent Virgin". I have pre-warned the travel agent of my wacky idea, and I think she is game, so you'll get to hear about her too. Thanks for checking in!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Sunflower State

 I came across an article the other day on AAA's website about a new museum that just opened in Topeka celebrating 150 years of all things Kansas. I went to Wichita this week and figured on my way back to Kansas City I would check it out.

Well, I sort of miscalculated how long the drive would take me total and ran out of time to see it. (Plus my book on CD was too good to stop listening to - I'm a nerd, I know.) However, I wanted to tell you about some other Kansas museums that I passed along on my way home - who knew Kansas was so chock full of museums? These are all between Wichita and Kansas City. I will definitely drive back through to visit them all someday!
  1. KS Museum of History - (see article link above) "From the earliest people to the recent past, the Kansas Museum of History impresses visitors with amazing artifacts and interactive displays. You'll thrill to stories from the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, learn the tragic history of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War, stroll through a full-sized train, sit in a 1950s diner, and much more." (from museum website)
  2. KS Oil Museum - a museum all about the oil industry in Kansas, cool. I have a family oil share in Hays, so this museum could include family history for me!
  3. Coleman Factory Outlet and Museum - my dad would totally love this place, next time you visit we'll go here dad! Their website says it's not worth the trip just for the museum, since it's only 200 square feet, but it could still be fun!
  4. Old Cowtown Museum - a living history museum where you will experience life specifically in the 1870's, I like that, find a niche and stick with it.
  5. Great Overland Station - a train museum and a Veteran's memorial - all in one!
Let me know if you have been to any of these, or others that people traveling through Kansas shouldn't miss! Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seeing the World Through Service

This morning I had to the opportunity to open the KS Celebration of Service for AmeriCorps week with a talk about international volunteering. I had talked about this a little while ago on the blog and had been looking forward to it. It was a lot of fun, people asked great questions and laughed at my jokes! Here are the slides for anyone from the presentation who wanted them - or for anyone else interested in volunteering abroad. I also had blogged about two of the websites before - Workaway and Fulbright - if you wan to read more. (Also for any nerds out there - check out Issuu to convert .pdf files into online page through books for free - like this one)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Visitors

I feel like I have been happily busy lately and bursting with things to share on the blog. Hopefully I am not overwhelming anyone out there. I will keep this short, since I just posted last night, but I wanted to share that this past week our friends, that I had talked about in this post, came to Kansas City to visit from Anapra, Mexico. It was nice to see them again, since I have been learning a lot more about their community, the challenges they face there and working to support the rice and beans program that we have there.

Sorry Katie, not to steal your thunder by posting this before it shows up on your blog, but here is our group as photographed by Brandon.
We were able to hear from them directly how everything is going. We shared a meal with them on Sunday night and were so lucky to give them a hug, tell them that we think about them everyday and want to come visit them as soon as it's safe for us and for them to have us. I also sort of promised that I would try to learn some Spanish by the time they came back, better brush off those CDs!

Also, if anyone is interested in sponsoring a child's education in Anapra (starting at $90/year for an elementary school student) just let me know and I will hook you up with the woman who handles this in Kansas City. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

3 out of 10

I've been trying to tag my posts so you can find the things you are looking for easier. What I haven't really done that well is explain what some of the tags mean. I tried something today that I thought would fall under my "armchair travels" label but thought that a lot of you, who are newer readers, may not know what the heck I was talking about. So to explain - a long time ago I posted about how my parents were experiencing some of the benefits of travel by learning about foods, languages and customs of other places while never leaving their hometown. I have also been doing this in between trips myself, like the cooking class a couple of weeks ago.

Yesterday I had the opportunity, and incidentally after hearing a lot about China recently (and how you need to go there), to try acupuncture. There was a free stress relief clinic being put on by a friend who runs a counseling practice in my town. Some trainers were visiting to do a certification course on how to perform a special ear acupuncture by N.A.D.A.. Traditionally the method is for treating different kinds of addicts of substances (like heroin or alcohol) or psychiatric patients - of which I am neither - but it is also beneficial for managing stress and general pain, as well as a host of other ailments. I figured I would try it out, why not, right?

They said the pain would be a 3 out of 10. I think that was fairly accurate - they are small needles, but they're still made of steel. No one yelled out who was having it done so you can gauge it from there.
They left the needles in for 30-45 minutes and turned the lights off so we could relax. I am pretty sure I fell asleep. Then last night, I slept for nine hours like a rock. I had very weird dreams - which is fairly normal - but I got up when my alarm went off (without any snoozes)!! I would definitely do it again. Thanks for checking in!

P.S. I am hopefully going to China in 2013 as part of the end of my MBA program, so there will be more on that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meet Michelle

Now that the latest blog contest winner has been announced, I thought it would be appropriate to give her a nice introduction on the blog. (With the last contest, I did a small introduction, but I still had people asking to know more about him.) Before I get into the interview I just did with Michelle, I thought I would tell you how I know her.

In a nutshell:  Michelle is the daughter of my friend Kathi, who I went to Liberia with.

I don't know Michelle very well, we have hung out once socially and there were about nine other people who all went to the Plaza Art Fair together. I know where she works and that she went to college in California. I know some other things about her from her mom - like her favorite colors - but that's the majority of it. I know that Michelle is younger than me and likes to travel. She has a younger brother that I am friends with, Andrew, and he and his dad both play in our church band with me. I think it will be fun to finally get to know the last family member of the Gutierrez family!

Here is some info from her:
Sorry Michelle, I stole this from Facebook!
Occupation:  Head Production Assistant (KC Repertory Theatre) with sprinklings of substitute teaching and data entry at my dads office
Hobbies:  Zumba, Couponing, Cooking, Cycling, Reading
Interests:  KCRW "Mornings Become Eclectic" new music podcasts, quirky films (a la Michel Gondry etc.)
How long has it been since you had a vacation?:  last September I visited SoCal and hiked with friends to the Hollywood sign for my birthday
How soon should we cruise?:  Next week :)
What was your reaction when you found out you had won?:  Shock and awe, I was very much charmed by the video and music, and when the name was picked I was in shock to see my name. I paused the video to tell my mom about it! I am super excited for this adventure!
What are some of your favorite places you've visited?: Catalina Island, Hilton Head Island, Chef Chauen in Morocco
Have you been on a cruise before?:  Yes, Disney's The Big Red Boat when Andrew and I were little ( we have some great pics of us in life-vests w/ Mickey).
Anything else you would like everyone to know about you?:  I love trying new things - be it food, activities, dances, etc. I am always up for a new experience and am not timid to hunt them down.

I think we're going to have a blast, more on our adventure together soon! Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And the winner is...



P.S. I feel so grateful to have you all as friends and if I were a millionaire, I would've taken you all!
P.P.S. Tune in this week to find out more about the winner!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Happened to Spring?

You'd never know it was May 14th today in Omaha - it was freezing cold! This wouldn't have been so bad but my plans for our free day in Omaha included everything outdoors and we hadn't really packed expecting winter weather. Since this was my first non-driving through/work-only trip to Omaha - we forged on anyway, figuring we could warm up on the drive back to Kansas City.


a. Lunch at Hiro 88 - delicious sushi
b. Breakfast at Aroma's Coffeehouse - peppermint mocha latte and coffeecake
c. Asparagus at the Omaha Farmer's Market. Very impressed with the variety and quality at this market, located in the Old Market Downtown.
d. Proof of Brian Beard's presence! (He's starting his own three month mini-streak of trips with me!)
e. The Henry Doorly Zoo - we watched Born to be Wild at the IMAX (which was a great choice considering the weather). Also pictured, a snake and some blue bellied birds. 

I'd been hearing for a long time that I needed to go to the Omaha Zoo - so I am glad I finally went. [Although, not to go off on a huge rant, but I am not a huge fan of zoos in general. I think it's great for rehabilitation (like the tiger with three legs) and some conservation efforts (like all the facts about the level of "endangeredness" of each animal), but I think most of the animals seem sad. When they pace around and people ignore signs and tap on the glass, I sort of lose it and need to move on.

I don't mind the birds, the reptiles and the fish - they seem happy wherever they are.] On a positive note, they had just opened a Madagascar exhibit and had some fossa - which I hadn't seen in the wild, which really made me want to go back to Africa. In all, it was a fun day and when we got home we had a delicious dinner made from our farmer's market finds. Thanks for checking in!

P.S. The blog contest ends at midnight so this is your last chance to enter. The drawing and reveal will happen and be posted sometime tomorrow!

Conference Buds

(L to R: Jessica, me, Brian) We took a series of photos in a variety of poses and we were in charge of the clicker for the camera - which led to lots of shots taken before we were ready. We finally captured this one. Jessica and I met at the Independent Sector Conference in November and were finishing each other's sentences by the end of a few days. It's great to meet someone randomly who you feel like you've known for life. Especially when they turn out to be cool, funny and all-out inspiring!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Big Omaha In Review

Billed as the "the nation's most ambitious conference on innovation and entrepreneurship", I think overall Big Omaha delivered. I have to say that as a non-profit professional I was not the target audience, as my coding skills are limited to a C++ class I had to take to graduate from college and I have never used the words 'venture' and 'capitalist' together in a sentence before right now. But as an aspiring social good entrepreneur, I definitely found value in the speakers who presented - both for my daily work and my dreams for work in the future.

I was particularly struck by the conversations around the sacrifices both personally and professionally that need to be addressed with any new venture that you are going to be devoting your life to. Several of the presenters shared more than others on their personal approach to handling trying to "kill it" at work and leave time for themselves and their families. Either way, it's something you need to consider.

Some of the best takeaways were:
  • "Before you go to college listen to your parents, after college listen to yourself." ~ Ben Huh (Cheezburger Network)
  • Learning about Samasource - who offers outsourced work tasks to individuals in developing countries
  • "Failure is okay as long as you don't die." ~ Dan Martell (Flowtown)
  • "Life should be about the collection of experiences, not materials." ~ Shervin Pishevar (Social Gaming Network)
  • "This is the century for the rest of the world and we need to pay attention." ~ Sarah Lacy (TechCrunch)
  • A free copy of Sarah Lacy's new book Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky
  • Discovering the Dear World photo project
  • More about how to have an entrepreneurial approach to education - teach kids to code, give kids the option of self-directed learning, customize individual paced learning
  • Time to hang out with friends and have discussions about the state of the world, the concept of starting up, and whatever else came up, leads to more productive thoughts in general
  • And finally, if you give a speaker a standing ovation at the beginning of their talk - you'll get their best talk ever!
 Thanks for checking in - tomorrow we're going to the zoo!

A 3.5 Hour Drive

We left this morning for Omaha. While this is not the most flattering photo of me, I liked how serious Brian was while driving.

Our trip, while short by most road-tripping standards, included the following:

1.) Some funky highway art.
2.) Entertainment ~
  • Listening to Adele's '21' CD
  • 2 Planet Money Podcasts
  • 1 MOTH Stories Podcast
  • 1 This American Life Podcast
3.) One pitstop at the Stuckey's Truck Stop
4.) One fifteen minute phone call for Brian, during which I tried to be patient about having to interrupt Adele (see #2)

5.) And finally lunch in Omaha at the Crane - which was pretty delicious.
We checked into the hotel and then walked over to the United Way to visit the YVC program there - they are already full for their summer program! Our conference, Big Omaha, starts this evening. It's going to be a blast! Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To Witty Friends

I love nothing more than to laugh so hard that I fall over. If you haven't been keeping up with the comments on the blog contest, I would like to bring you excerpts from some of my favorites so far (no offense if you didn't get listed, love you too!). Also, trying to find Jessica who just entered and get your last name, just comment on this post and I'll make a note of it. Thank you so much to everyone who has entered so far, you are making this a ton of fun for me. Just a reminder - the drawing will be random but I am loving your creativity just the same. Four more days to enter!!
  • Katie - ...I'd share my Princess Kate nail polish for the fancy nights, and I'd totally tell you if you got the fancy spinach between your teeth. And we'd probably laugh a lot. And I don't snore. 
  • Ellie - ...I have never been on a cruise where my companion has stayed awake for the adventure...I have a bunch of kids so my vacations almost always involve the word "Disney" 
  • Sarah - ...the two of us haven't really ever hung out (except for the back porch of Grannies) and if that is any indication of the fun we could have...well, Get ready cruise!
  • Christine - ...My brain is screaming to leave you a witty comment but every bone in my body says, I HAVE 5 FRIGGIN KIDS and it's quite possible I no longer possess that ability.
  • Sarah #2 - ...I am fair skinned myself so I would not shame you with a killer tan. In that same light, I have some great sunscreen and I would share.
  • Kristin - ...if I go with you, and we don't like how we look in our swimming suits after the cruise, I can Photoshop our heads on to better bodies for the blog. I'm just saying! Pick me!
  • Jodi - ...you do share a birthday with my son...plus we could have a whole conversation without my children interrupting!
  • Lorna - ...I'M YOUR MOTHER!!!...you are my favorite girl in the whole world
  • Leslie - ...I am fully retired now, so my bags are always packed and ready to go
  • Amanda - ...we share an office...imagine the smart working that will flow if TWO of us vacation at the same time. 
  • Stefanie - There once was a girl named Jenn
        Who generously gave to her friend
        Simply write on her site
        And wait with delight
        Until the cruise on which she will send!
  • Gerald (the lone male entry, who is also my dad) - ... Being a man of the sea...I throw my sailor hat into the ring of competition. I know how to handle shipboard emergencies if one should arise and can stay calm. I can tell great sea stories...             

Monday, May 9, 2011

To Your Health

A couple of days ago I mentioned a book I was reading that outlines ways to be your most productive, happy, healthiest self. In my post, I had said something about how the book mentioned that sleep is the best way for you to take care of yourself. I also said something offhanded about that not being very ground-breaking information. I would like to retract that now because, while still not the most complex advice in the world, it seems that many people are not following it. People today, on average, are getting less sleep, taking shorter (or no) vacations and are generally running themselves ragged. In our modern world, people report feeling an increased demand on their time and attention and as a result feel drained.

As I have been reading entries to the blog contest (which I am loving - keep 'em coming!) and listen to people day-to-day, I am struck by how many vacation-deprived people there are out there. I realize there are many serious and legitimate reasons for not taking vacation that range from financial to family obligations to not having the time. I know it isn't always practical to take time away from work, family, health problems, etc. but it may be something you can't "afford" not to do.

I have read several books and listened to some podcasts that say vacation and/or taking true, relaxing breaks can be the best way for you to work smarter (not harder), have better relationships, live longer and generally be happier. I realize that I am not the most qualified person to make these suggestions (I'm no doctor) but I personally feel the positive effects of taking a nap or getting away for a little bit on my energy, my productivity and my attitude.

I also understand that I am fortunate enough to have generous vacation time and the financial resources to go places. But, your vacations and breaks needn't be elaborate, long or expensive to give your mind, body and spirit a chance to rest. My wish for all of you out there who are weary, tired and just plain burned-out is that you are able to find a little time soon to let yourself rest and rejuvenate. For whatever it's worth, I give my personal guarantee that you won't regret it!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

200th Post - Blog Contest #2!

Last September I had an idea to share in an adventure with one of my readers. I had so much fun with the first contest, that I decided I would do it again. A few of you voted for your favorite idea a few weeks ago, on the blog and on Facebook, and we have the next contest announcement here!

The winner and I will be taking an off-season cruise together - sometime in the near future. (As I said in the contest ideas post, I am planning on taking on the costs of the cruise - we'll try to find a port that works for both of us when the time comes.)

Here's what you need to do to enter:
  • Comment on this post within the next seven days (by midnight on Saturday, May 14th) and tell me why you'd like to win! (mom, you can do this, just type in the word that appears after you comment to verify you're not a robot)
  • In the interest of close quarters, unless you're my dad or my brother, it's best that you're a female. Sorry guys, you represented in the last contest. There will be more! I'm thinking couples next time.
  • Be ready for a fun adventure!
The details:
  • You'll have the chance to give input on when works for you, where you might like to go, etc. - I am researching some choices right now.
  • You'll be responsible for your own spending money (souvenirs, drinks, spa) but I'll cover the rest.
  • You'll be featured on the blog as we plan and take our adventure together.
  • Anyone can enter, you don't need to know me, we can get to know each other on the cruise! But leave your name so I know who you are.
This is my way of thanking you for reading along and following my adventures. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on the blog on Sunday, May 15th! Best of luck!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Taking Care

People in my life often ask if traveling gets old for me or if I am tired/worn out in general. Depending on the day, I might be a little tired but I love having the opportunity to go places - doing the work I love and discovering new things. I've been reading a book called Be Excellent at Anything for the past week and although it's not groundbreaking information, like getting enough sleep is the best way to increase your potential and productivity, it is full of good reminders and a bunch of scary health-related statistics.

In particular, the chapters I read yesterday were about proper exercise and nutrition - especially when you're on the road (hence my choice of an apple with my coffee in yesterday's post, instead of my normal slice of pumpkin bread). I really try to be healthy with my food, especially when I am away from my routine at home, but sometimes, between flights and driving places, I feel good if I make the time to stop and eat at all. The solution for me is to bring healthy snacks along just in case there isn't time to get something good, but sometimes I forget that too. I know I'll feel better throughout the day when I've checked off my food pyramid.

As I was thinking about the book in the airport today, I read a blog post from the travel guy, Scott, on the Wall Street Journal website about the health effects on extreme travelers. They define extreme as 21 days or more on the road a month. I am no way near that - I can't even imagine. Given the way I fluctuate between good and bad eating and health habits on the road, I am pretty sure that "extreme" traveling might leave me dead. Glad to be alive! Thanks for checking in.

P.S. The next blog post will be my 200th - tune in for a special announcement!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's good here?

My traditional approach to travel is to do some research ahead of time to see what I would like and combine that with what I find as I go. Today I decided I would solicit some advice from Milwaukee locals instead to see what they think is the best. This is what they said:
Best Coffee Shop: Stone Creek Coffee ~ Recommended by Kevin, a salesman - they always have meetings so they would know, right?
A delicious lunch: Boston Latte (honey, espresso and steamed milk) - totally worth the drive, apple and a bag of cashews (not pictured)
Best Fried Cheese Curds: Culver's ~ Recommended by Shannon, a four year resident of Milwaukee. I didn't know Culver's was a Wisconsin company, you learn something new everyday! I was skeptical about a fast food chain having the best of something but I got several local votes for this one. I ran out of time to try it but we have these in Kansas City, so hopefully they too have awesome cheese curds!
Best meat/cheese stores: Wisconsin Cheese Mart and Usingers ~ Recommended by Richard, a volunteer with Visit Milwaukee. I bought some cheddar cheese curds and some spicy beef sticks (for Brian).
Best Brewery: Lakefront Brewery ~ Recommended by Brian's uncle, Mike. Milwaukee is home to Miller, Pabst and many micro breweries. If I had the time I would've gone to a tour or two, but alas, I only had time to drink one.
Best custard (maybe anywhere): Leon's ~ Recommended by Brian's aunt, Irene. The inspiration for the t.v. show "Happy Days", this local legend is open year round and until midnight. They have three standard flavors and a flavor of the day, which was raspberry. It was the creamiest, most delicious custard I have ever had.
I give the raspberry a big thumb up!
So, there you have it - in my four hours of free time today, the best things I heard about. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

All American

This morning I got up earlier than humans should and headed to the airport for a quick flight up to Milwaukee. I had a nice visit with the Youth Volunteer Corps of Racine, WI. I got to meet their new Program Director who was off to a great start, and to say goodbye to their Executive Director who is retiring (which was really sad after nine years of knowing her). We had lunch at Spinnakers on Lake Michigan with a great view.

Lake Michigan, from the shores of Racine.
I headed back to Milwaukee and checked into my hotel for a conference I have a booth at. The Crowne Plaza Hotel by the airport is highly recommended by me due to the following:
  1. You can get the local root beer in their hotel snack shop - and they have a snack shop.
  2. They have FREE wireless and wired internet.
  3. Separate living room from bedroom - it's just nice not to sleep where you are working.
  4. They have the good cable channels - not 50 ESPNs, but HGTV!
  5. The room was clean and recently renovated, more boutique than standard style hotel.
  6. Digital, easy to program thermostat.
After checking in and setting up my booth, I headed to Wauwatosa to visit one of Brian's Aunts and family. We ate pizza at a place called Cranky Al's (thanks Irene and Mike!) which has something to do with him hand-cranking donuts as well as being a little cranky. Al made several announcements on a microphone throughout our meal about random things. It was quirky and one of those things I love about small towns, you never know what will happen.

Cranky Al with one of his famous apple fritters and a maple donut.
After dinner we headed back to Mike & Irene's and Henry and Arthur (Brian's cousins) got started on some bathroom demolition. Here they are getting ready to bust up the tile floor, which ended up being more delicate than I was imagining. This was nice as it allowed the adults to have a pleasant conversation at the same time.
After the demolition was done for the night, Arthur read us a chapter from his book for school and I headed back to my hotel for a much needed sleep after being up for 18 hours. Tomorrow I am going in search of the best Wisconsin cheese curds I can find. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Stew and Facts

I attended the Bulgarian Cookery class at the public library tonight. An assortment of people from the community showed up to watch Zo (or Anna as she later referred to herself) make the heart-warming stew. Most people were there to learn more recipes - I went for the samples, to learn about Bulgaria and the recipe (below).

Fresh garden veggies for the stew. Bell pepper, Italian flat leaf parsley and garlic chives.
Unfortunately we didn't actually learn anything about Bulgaria - I guess I just thought that would be part of it - but we did learn about the traditional stew and watched it being made step-by-step. No pre-cooked beauties flying out of magic ovens here. There were not hot plates but there was an open flame burner, oh the danger! Zo/Anna shared a lot of extra things with us as we went along, I thought they were interesting but maybe since I don't cook everyone else already knows them. I will share those first and then share the recipe for at least one person I know who wants it (missed you tonight Sarah Z!).

Fun facts:
  1. Sea salt doesn't corrode the arteries the way mined salt does.
  2. When cooking with herbs, choose two or three of your favorites, any more and it's "chaotic".
  3. Planting garlic chives will keep bunnies out of your garden but pick off the flowers or they'll spread like crazy
  4. It's easier to change your religion than your diet.
  5. Cayenne pepper is sold in thermal heat units - usually 25k - but we're using 90k
  6. Swallow-tailed butterflies will nest in your Italian flat leaf, so grow extra so you don't get mad at them
  7. To avoid crying while cutting onions, don't cut the root off until the end. Cut around it to avoid letting the sulfur dioxide out.
  8. To get rid of the onion and garlic smell on your hands rub them with something steel.
Since I really don't cook (although I did make my own Ramen for lunch today) this will probably be the only time you ever get a recipe on the blog, so enjoy!

Bulgarian Stew - garnished with parsley, plain yogurt and a slice of baguette.
Recipe:
2 onions
4-6 bell peppers (chopped)
1/2 cup red wine (or prune juice)
1/4 cup prune juice
1/2 cup dry lentils (or one can - I am not sure she was happy I asked how many cans 1/2 cup was)
1/2 cup dry navy beans (or one can)
3 cloves garlic (optional, not traditional)
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp paprika
3 cups veggie stock (we learned how to make our own)
fresh thyme, marjoram and basil (finely chopped)
sea salt and pepper to taste

We learned two methods for cooking this stew, which was pretty tasty although I thought it needed a little more salt.

Method 1 - put it all in a crock pot and leave it at low for 4-6 hours.

Method 2 - start with the prune juice, put in the garlic, add the onions and a little salt. Let the onions cook until translucent. Add wine. Add tomato paste. Add cayenne. Add paprika. Add lentils and beans. Add peppers. Add stock. Add a little more salt. Add pepper. Let boil. Add herbs if they're dry or wait until right before you serve to stir in the fresh ones. Garnish with parsley, yogurt, etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's Not Cancun

Anapra
Every other Sunday night, we get together with a group of friends to eat rice and beans and think and pray about our faraway friends living in Anapra, Mexico. Most of us have only met two of the people living in this small town, just outside of Juarez (currently being called the murder capitol of the world), but our friends who started the group, Brandon and Katie have met many of the others.

We read news about the violence that is plaguing Juarez, we try to imagine what it must be like to have a cold winter in a house built out of wooden pallets and sheet metal, we hope for the children who's parents struggle to afford their school tuition and we raise money for a rice and beans distribution program for several of the families through donations and small fund raisers.

The colonia of Anapra looks across the U.S. border into El Paso, TX. Some of the people living there can afford to temporarily cross the border for work but many cannot. For those who do cross, like our friend Estela, the journey is not very safe.

The many small children in our group ask questions and draw pictures to send down to the kids living very opposite lives that most us are living in America. It's easy to take all I have for granted, but these nights help remind me of all that I have and what being grateful feels like. Someday I am hoping that the violence will end (in Juarez, in Mexico and everywhere else for that matter) and we will be able to meet our friends in person. Thanks for checking in!