Sunday, May 29, 2011

Next Stop: Hanoi, Vietnam!

As this is posted, I am probably asleep thousands of feet up in the air, eating smelly airplane food, or watching a romantic comedy movie marathon on a littttllle tiny screen...
because I am back on my way to Vietnam!!!

I'll be there for about 3.5 weeks this time.  I am so excited for this one - it will be the first camp in northern Vietnam, but we are working with a very experienced, very special team.  This program is extra close to my heart, because it is the first GPI program I went to after I started working for Hole in the Wall last year. 

Status: Hoping for super quick jet lag recovery, because I am as excited as I can be for this amazing program to start!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chicago family time

Look how cute we are!  I love those four so so so much.

 Above - a picture of us taking a picture of ourselves- I know what you're thinking.. that is higher level artwork!

Chicago+my family=perfect weekend.

Things that were fabulous:
Getting to be the one to greet my parents at the airport gate instead of the other way around- a first?!
Seeing my brother and sis's home and getting glimpse into their new life together!
Watching my brother and sis cook a great dinner - and then eating it - yumm
Late late night chats with my brother and sister in law
The Untouchables Tour - crazy corny but a fun way to see the city!
Spending hours eating at Sunda
Having my entire family, every last one of them, escort to the airport - all the way to the security gate
Snuggles and talks over meals, during walks, on the couch... just realizing we were all together in the same place.
I loved every single minute, and am already looking forward to the next time we can be together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Monday night lots of wonderfulness happened.
I went out for a happy hour with some of my favorite New Haven ladies – which is always so refreshing and a huge reminder that I truly have wonderful, wonderful people here.

Two of our friends came a little late and told us that Brett Dennen was playing at a local venue and that there were still tickets available. WHAT? I love him! Yes please!

When we went to pay our tab at the restaurant, we discovered that someone had covered our tab – thank you mystery person!

Then we went to park at the venue – and found a parking space DIRECTLY in front of the block where we were going – no small miracle in New Haven.

THEN we discovered that there was an ice cream store next to the venue, and exactly enough time to order and eat one bowl of frozen yogurt with sour patch kids on top.

And then we proceeded to have an incredible evening of listening and grooving to Brett Dennen’s set.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Brett Dennen – but he is one happy guy. Or at least his music is.

This is a picture of him:

He is up there, bare-footed, wiggling around, and just looking at him makes me happy.

A lovely benefit is that the crowds he attracts are super positive as well – Unlike the all-too-usual elbowing-shoving-glaring concert crowd, this crowd was shockingly pleasant. I bumped into a man, and he told me I had a nice shirt. I bumped into a lady and she said “isn’t Brett Dennen just so great?!”. People were just grooving with no rhythm whatsoever, and overall.. just happy and positive.

Which brings me to the point of this.

ALL of us talked about how cool it was to listen to such positive music for an evening.
As if it is a natural wonder.
As if it is unheard of.

I am kind of in the business of positivity – that’s what I get paid to create. And even I can only think of a few musicians who truly promote positive messaging – all of the time.

So my friend and I are on a mission to create a list of musicians who make us feel good – positive good.

Do you have any suggestions for our list? I will be sure to share the results.

PS - Brett Dennen is a huge supporter of The Mosaic Project.. which I just heard about for the first time, but which looks AMAZING.  Check it out!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New England Bucket List: Lobster in Maine!

Yesterday I went to Maine with Rachael and Kate.
I need to digress for just a moment and talk about these two phenomenal ladies I have in my life. Actually to digress even further - I can't mention these two without talking about Pears, the other corner of this foursome. These three ladies have been a constant in my life for the last six (whoa!) years, and I can't imagine my life without them. We all taught at YES Prep together, and it is impossible for me to think about my life in Houston without thinking of them - they were staples, both professionally and personally. They were the ones who were in the teacher's lounge with me at 6am planning our lessons and stayed until 9pm some nights grading and laughing and making gigantic plans as how to change the world. And they were the ones who showed up at my house and packed up everything I owned while I laid on the floor with my foot bleeding the day before I was leaving for Ghana / grad school.

They visited me when I first started graduate school in Denver, and then visited when I was studying in South Africa, and then we all rallied in Boston when Kate started grad school, and in New York (for New Year's Eve!) when Rachael moved out there to follow her dreams, and then back here when.. I don't even remember what we were doing. And it doesn't matter what we do - whether we are just sitting around on the floor telling stories or on some great African adventure, I love and savor every single last minute with these three. 

Without exception, every single time we see each other I leave inspired, uplifted, and excited about life. We know each other so well -we know all of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and since we've been such close friends but also worked together, we know what lights each other up and what weighs each one down. We talk about huge ideas but also crazy body issues, boys and love and loss, fears and joys and religion and plans and failures and.. you see the point.

We are all COMPLETELY different - different backgrounds, different interests, different takes on life.. But the three of them are PHENOMS at what they do - so good, talented, passionate - and so they are constantly exposing me to new things and new ways of thinking about whatever particular life-stage is happening.

I love them. My life wouldn't be the same without them.

So yesterday, three of the four of us (missing Pearsy the whole way!) went to Maine to eat a lobster. Its on my bucket list. And who knew.. Maine isn't even that far away! So Rach came up here, we drove to Kate in Cambridge, and before the sun even set, we were in that elusive most north-eastern state in the union!

Check it off the list!!  And don't forget the bib...
Rachael even tried lobster for the FIRST TIME! :)
Maybe her first and last... :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jet lagging - back in Connecticut

I left India a week ago yesterday.

I have two weeks of down time between trips.

Next Sunday I fly back to Hanoi, Vietnam for about a month.

It has taken me longer than usual to funciton as a normal human again this time - I am still waking up at crazy hours of the night and walk around with a fog around my head.  I'm becoming convinced that I may just stay jet lagged straight through this round.

That said, it has been refreshing and lovely to walk around in cool weather, to eat sandwiches and salads and berries.  And while I was gone, something magical happened.... SPRING!

The world exploded in green, and even in my jet-lagged fog, I am constantly in awe whenever I am outside - there are flowers blooming everywhere - such gorgeous bright pinks, purples, whites and reds.  Trees sprung new vibrant green leaves, that even against the rainy grey days seem like they are just glowing.

Spring truly is something miraculous, don't you think??

Today I'm headed to Boston with Kate and Rachael - these girls make my soul happy.  And next weekend on the way to Hanoi I am going through Chicago to spend a day with my family in Brian and Jenna's world.  I am so so so excited to get my arms around all of them.

I truly am blessed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One Year!

On May 3rd, I passed the 'one year' mark with GPI. What a year it has been! This job has taken me so far to Ashford Connecticut, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Paraguay, Vietnam again, Cambodia, India... and we are just getting started.

I have had the opportunity to work with incredible people and incredible organizations, and learned so much both professionally and personally. It has been a phenomenal year, and am looking forward to everything ahead!
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Back in the USA!

When I got back to my office on Monday, this is what was waiting for me:

LOVED it - such a wonderful, lovely welcome back. Thank you thank you!!!
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eating in India

Above - peaking through a GIANT dosa.  It tastes kind of like a crispy super thin sour dough pancake.  You use it to sop up sauces.  It is my favorite Indian food.


I called my grandma on Mother's Day.  ((Ok, I'm about to talk about food but I have to go off on a tangent for a second.  My grandparents are some of my very favorite people on the entire planet.  I LOVE talking to them.  When I am in the USA we talk at least once a week, but when I am abroad, sometimes it is less than that.  When I do call, they are always amazed and shocked - EVERY TIME... "oh my goodness, where are you calling from??" On this particular call, I got to tell them I was calling from my computer sitting under a coconut tree on the side of the road in India.  Which I understand sounds more than a little crazy, but it was true.  Wifi is amazing, I tell you what.  But I digress.))

ANYWAY.. whenever I call from some country or another, one of the questions they always ask me is about what I am eating.  And I usually have some good stories for them.  India certainly has provided some great phone conversation material.

First off, I should say that I pretty successfully made it through a month in India without learning the names of almost any of the foods I ate.  I'm not sure how that happened, but it did.  Since we were at camp most of the time and just being served food (instead of ordering from a restaurant menu), I never saw the names of any of the foods written down, so that pretty much means I was not going to remember anything.  So if you are looking for advice when you go to an Indian restaurant, don't call me.  An honestly, after eating curry breakfast lunch and dinner for a month straight....I should say you don't really need to invite me, either. :)  I'll be enjoying my sandwiches, burritos and froyo. 

Anyway, I took a picture one night (or lunch, or breakfast.. they all kind of look the same), and this is what my plate usually looked like:  some rice (usually two or three kinds, but i must have been feeling riced out this meal since I only opted for one) - some sauce (usually spicy curryish), some naan or chapati, and then something fried - usually veggies but once in a while some chicken.  Vegetarianism is extremely common in Southern India, so almost every meal we ate was vegetarian. 

You eat with your hands... or rather.. hand.  Your right hand.  You don't ever eat with your left hand.  Which is an interesting dilemma if you are left-handed, like one of our field consultants.
 I actually really hate getting my fingers dirty.  I always have - since I was a baby.  But I overcame, and ate with my hands almost the entire time.  Its tricky!  Especially the really saucy stuff - there is some serious technique that goes into it..  Sometime like squeezy cuppage.  Below is a picture of a dosa restaurant where we ate off of banana leaves:
After the meal was my favorite part when they would give us these little sweetened seedy things that tasted like black licorice.  It made my mouth feel fresh and clean and delicious. 

Anyway, that is my very informative, very intellectual take on eating in India.  Please know that the vast majority of my cynicism in this area is due to the fact that I was eating almost exclusively at camp, which means that I wasn't necessarily trying all of the culinary delights of the country.I must say, that although it did get a little much to be eating very similar food breakfast noon and night, the quality of the food we ate was extremely good, and I enjoyed the social interaction of having people critique my hand eating ability.

Bon appetit!

Friday, May 6, 2011

This week in India..

This week we had the first ever Staff Training for Camp Rainbow.  It was incredible.  So many people who had worked in India had told us not to expect too much.. not to expect the staff to open up quickly, or to act silly.. or to be able to adjust to 'camp culture'.  Boy was that not the case.  The group of people we worked with was INCREDIBLE - they were so, so fun, open to trying new things, willing to break down perceived cultural barriers... they were THERE.  They got it.  It was fun.  And hot.  But mainly fun.  Ok, fun and hot.  I cannot emphasize how hot.  Anyway.. a couple pictures (we try to protect the privacy of our particpants, you know how that goes.. so vague pictures only.)

Our schedule is PACKED - we do a 5.5 day training, with every hour intentionally planned.  I LOVE IT.  It is so so so exhausting to facilitate, but it is incredible - and the results are incredible.  Sometime I will write out a much more comprehensive post on it, but for now, suffice it to say it is one of my favorite parts of my job.
Our camp culture session was INCREDIBLE.  The participants made a map of India out of a bunch of random supplies we gave them, and then took us on a full on walking tour - with samples of dances and customs of all of the regions of India, and at the end... they all spontaneously broke into their national anthem.  I of course lost it and started crying.  It just was so lovely to see people so proud of their country and culture... and so incredible to think that we were about to have camp there, for the first time.  They were so ready to create a safe place for children - such a good group.  I am gushing.  I know.
Egg drop!  A fun evening program team building exercise.
Post training - we are wiped.  WIPED.  On the bus back to Chennai, the staff was still on a high - they were singing and dancing on the bus.  But the leadership team looked a little something like this:

Did I mention it was hot?  When I first got on the bus I seriously was a little bit amazed we all didn't get heat stroke instantly.  It was like walking into an oven.  But somehow, we survived.

The day after training we had a few hours to do some site-seeing.  We were so so exhausted, and so so SO hot - but I am glad we ventured out because it was the only chance I had on this trip to be a tourist!  Here is the team I traveled/worked with.  They are AMAZING, and made my life a happy place.  I get to work with some of the best people in the entire world.  Truly.  Just look at how adorable they are.  And sweaty.  But mainly adorable.
No memorable moment would be complete without a self portrait, don't you think?

Or a cheesy jumping picture

Or a giant stone elephant (built out of one rock!)


On the way back from our outing, we stopped at a roadside stand to pick out some fruit.  This quiet little simple moment was actually one of my favorites.  Just a lovely little stolen glimpse into life in Chennai.

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