22 December 2010

january project preview | animal aware | near sumpango sacatepéquez, guatemala

What: AWARE (Animal Welfare Association - Rescue/Education) is a non-profit, non-governmental charitable organization, founded in Guatemala in 1998 by Xenii Nielsen (USA), Gina Illescas (Guatemala), and Pamela Hirst- Prins (England). The principal activity of AWARE is rescue and rehabilitation of domestic animals. AWARE has a permanent on-site spay/neuter clinic, and plans to build an education center to provide free environmental education to local children, eventually including basic literacy and numeracy, and perhaps English language teaching. At the moment AWARE’s educational provision includes visits in schools and colleges - and even, on occasion, private homes - in and around Antigua and Guatemala City. AWARE is financed solely through membership subscriptions and private donations - either financial or in-kind.

AWARE operates a No-Kill animal shelter. This means that they do not euthanize any animal brought to them, as long as they feel that the animal is still able to live a reasonably normal and enjoyable life. All animals that are not adopted are kept and provided for. They sometimes participate in AWARE’s school visits, and all of them give Hound Heights its special character.

Where:  Hound Heights is located just off the Pan-American Highway - at Km 40, between San Lucas and Chimaltenango - close to the village of Sumpango Sacatepéquez - very handy for the spectacular kite flying on All Souls Day (1st November). This is Guatemala’s Central Highlands, and the farm is about 2300 meters (7500 feet) above sea-level. Although AWARE is only 14° north of the Equator, it gets cold enough for a touch of pre-dawn frost during the winter at this altitude.

The Shelter sits astride a ridge, nestling amongst woods and the tiny fields of maize and beans of the local Kakchiquel Indians. It’s a very peaceful spot, and listening to the whippoorwill at night it’s hard to imagine that these apparently gentle hills and valleys owe their steep inclines and jumbled configuration to terrible seismic convulsions resulting from Guatemala’s situation on the junction of no less than three tectonic plates.

Volunteer work: With over 200 dogs and nearly 100 cats, AWARE always need help with anything from building dog-runs or putting up fences to bathing, brushing, or walking dogs, providing some human company for both the dogs and the cats, or helping out with their educational programs. From time to time, AWARE needs help with their spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics, garage sales, and other fund-raising events.

Possible duties include:

• Dogs: bathing, brushing, obedience training, medicating, cleaning cages, walking, and socializing.

• Cats: brushing, medicating, cleaning the cages, and socializing.

• Educational programs in local schools.

• Helping with spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics in local villages.

• Thinking up and organizing fund-raising events.

• Photography.

• Sunday: Hound Heights is open to the public from 10 am to 3 pm. Volunteers can help show people around, assist parking, discourage littering, show animals to potential adopters, etc.

Significance:  I adopted Gus, my four-legged sidekick in the throes of a messy break-up. Some women buy shoes or binge on Ben & Jerry’s – I rescued a three-month old puppy on SPCA doggy death row. Adopting an untrained, abused puppy presented all sorts of challenges I wasn’t prepared for, but this beast dressed in brown fur taught me to let go and believe in my ability to love without all the bullshit riders and clauses and exceptions I’ve managed to build like a fortress around my heart for decades. Animal rescue and spay and neuter programs are causes I strongly believe in and I look forward to working with animals in a country where animals are generally not treated well or considered a status symbol (versus a well cared for pet). If I can help connect one animal with an owner who will give 'em a lifetime of love like I've given Gus, I'll be happy.

As an added bonus, I get to volunteer with my food and travel writer friend, Lisa Rogak of Where In the World is Peckerhead? fame.  This gal has been incredibly kind to me on so many levels and such a source of creative and travel inspiration, that I am pretty damn happy that I finally get to meet her live and in the flesh in Latin America. Volunteering pretty much kicks butt, but getting to share the experience with people you respect and admire takes it to a whole other level of awesome (as I learned this month at Food Lifeline). So, thank you Lisa for putting AWARE on my radar!

21 December 2010

help support a center for sustainability and healing in portugal

The Korashan Project would like to restore and revive this amazing 16th Century Manor House in Vale das Lobas, Portugal to use as a center for sustainability and healing to be known as The Semanario. It will provide a focus to the eco-village, and a means for the members to derive an income from within the community.

About The Semanario:  The Seminario and it's beautiful terraced farm will be a multi-faith centre for peace, offering courses and workshops to encourage and inspire people who seek creative change and healing. The themes will range from natural medicine, through permaculture and traditional agriculture, to ecological construction and rural crafts. Residents at Vale das Lobas will be able to develop their income in association with the cycles and rhythms of the centre. Whether it is working in hospitality, to offering courses within the programme, to being part of the ecological building team, or having your own craft or artisan workshop, and selling your products directly to visitors. If you want to live a rural life, but take an active part in changing the world, join us at Vale Das Lobas.

About Vale das Lobas: Situated in the breathtaking Beira Alta region of central Portugal, in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela Mountains, Vale das Lobas is one hour’s drive from both the Spanish border and the wild Atlantic coast. Surrounded by granite boulders and ancient Neolithic sites, it occupies over seventy hectares of unpolluted, fertile land. The heart of the project is the village of Sobral Pichorro, with its terraced farmlands and 16th century manor house, known locally as The Seminario.

Learn more about the project on the Korashan Project's Facebook page here or donate here.

17 December 2010

maybe third time will be the charm: why i put haiti on hold

After a lot of debate, I decided for the second time (grr...) during The Global Citizen Project (TGCP) to postpone my volunteer trip to Haiti in January. It was not an easy decision, but I didn’t really have a choice. Haiti was put on hold in June when I launched TGCP because post-earthquake safety conditions had not improved to a point I was comfortable with.

Plans were locked and loaded and tickets were booked for me to go next month to volunteer with Ecoworks International. I was supposed to work with a terrific volunteer, Pete Medalia, a farmer and tree specialist who has taken over the creation of Ecoworks International’s tree nursery. Medalia lives most of the time in Ganthier at Mayor Ralph Lapointe’s house. Ecoworks International also has a small youth center in Ganthier where I was planning on helping teens create a community newsletter/journal. Here is an article about the happenings in Ganthier.

Everything looked like it was going to finally happen until Haiti’s recent November 28th election, which resulted in Michel Martelly (the third place candidate and popular Haitian carnival singer, a.k.a. “Sweet Mickey”), as well as the 12 other candidates contesting the elections.

The basic gist is that everyone is pissed that Martelly got screwed in the election, no one likes Jude Celestin (the candidate who beat Martelly by 6,845 votes for second place) and the response has been gunfire, barricades, riots, police confrontations and a run off election slated to take place during my volunteer stay. Election results can take up to two weeks to receive. The powers-that-be at my host volunteer organization expressed extreme worry for my safety in coming to Haiti at this time, as incoming flights had been cancelled due to the political unrest and as a result, my contact was considering postponing her involvement in a charette project that was planned to coincide timing-wise with my visit.

Over the past seven months of TGCP, I’ve managed to survive dengue fever, bubonic plague, gang violence, tropical storms, mudslides, contaminated water sources, more crime-ridden situations than I care to think about, sub par living conditions and the list goes on. I’m okay with facing crime, weather and health uncertainties (I was all ready to deal with Haiti’s current cholera outbreak – my malaria meds are apparently the first course of pharmaceutical action for infection), but situations of political unrest are the “oh shit” line I’m not willing to cross in the name of giving back. Such scenarios are a wildcard and although I want to help as many people as possible during these 12 months, I’m not exactly prepared to die in the name of this project.

Fingers crossed, I can make this project in Haiti happen in April or May. I love this organization and I’m so inspired by the work they want me to do for youth of Ganthier. And like Ecoworks International, I too am optimistic that the future of Haiti will improve. Big thank yous to Delta and its super efficient Twitter customer service at @deltaassist for being so understanding and helpful in canceling my airline ticket. May the stars align this spring.

Photo courtesy of EcoWorks International

11 December 2010

jason fried: why work doesn't happen at work | video on TED.com

Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work video on TED.com

first week of volunteering at food lifeline: a smashing success

It’s been a rockin’ first week volunteering at Food Lifeline. I love the people I’m working with and the rotating cast of kind-hearted volunteers and court mandated community service characters that roll through the Shoreline warehouse.  I started the week inspecting and repacking grocery rescue produce.  In real people speak, that’s nearly expired donations from several local grocery retailers, including Fred Meyer, Whole Foods and Amazon.com.  Foodstuffs have ranged from chanterelle mushrooms and vegetable and dip combo platters to very ripe avocados and heirloom tomatoes.  Potatoes, apples, bagged lettuces and pre-cut fruit reign supreme, with the latter in past expiration abundance.  It’s humbling to play a part in feeding so many needy Western Washington families and inspiring to see the volume of food that is processed at Food Lifeline with such meticulous care.

Parker Staffing Services and Tiffany of Carbzilla joined the food-packing festivities on Tuesday; Tiffany even returned again on Thursday.  Later in the week, I was “promoted” to processing dairy and have even been entrusted to train a handful of new volunteers.  Physically, it’s been an exhausting week, moving and packing boxes ranging from 25-40 lbs., hauling, weighing and disposing of heavy compost bins, and working on my feet for several consecutive hours in a fast paced warehouse setting, but I absolutely love it. 

In other news, my beloved 1992 Nissan Maxima went to car heaven last weekend after one final road trip to Vancouver, B.C., so I was forced to learn how to navigate King County Metro.  Riding the bus is no big deal for most urbanites, but I am not well-versed in Seattle’s public transportation system and the prospect of taking the bus (including a - gasp! - transfer) instilled panic that I’ve never experienced in all my third world ground transportation travels. Go figure.  So as a freelancer who’s worked from home for the past 12 years, never had structure or a schedule to abide by and has limited public transportation experience, I am proud of myself for getting myself to Food Lifeline every day this week via bus and on time. Maybe I wore repeat outfits this week and showed up with wet hair, but volunteering really isn’t about looking pretty. It’s about productivity and all of the volunteers at Food Lifeline kick ass.  I am so happy that for December, I get to play some small part in Food Lifeline’s annual goal of delivering 24 million meals to hungry families in Western Washington. 

09 December 2010

"no" is my new mantra

Really, I don’t mean to be a bitch, but, I need to get this rant off my chest. I’ve been freelancing fulltime for 12+ years. I did not attend journalism school and I learned everything I’ve needed to know to support myself solely off a writing career by making every mistake in the book. Yes, I had a few big serendipitous breaks, but I did not have a mentor or a whole lot of guidance to show me the way.  I just jumped in, did it, worked my ass off and made it work, because I fell hard and fast in love with writing and knew nothing else in the world would fill my soul quite the same way.

So, when I get nearly three dozen emails a week asking me how to become food writer, a travel writer, an author, a ghostwriter, a blogger or a social media expert, I cringe, and now, more times than not (there are a few exceptions), politely decline help and say “no.”  For one, I simply don’t have time to dole out career advice, especially while engaged in this year long volunteering tour de force. Secondly, a “small” favor inevitably turns into a never-ending string of questions and pseudo-mentoring that I didn’t sign up for and then I find myself in an awkward cyber break-up situation.  Lastly, the percentage of people seeking help who actually thank me is ridiculously small.  (I’m a stickler for giving thanks.) 

Don’t get me wrong. I want to encourage people to write and follow their dreams – I just don’t want to hold their hands or be a go-to source for career advice and information. At least not for the 100 or so people who hit my inbox each month seeking a “short” phone conversation or a “small” favor.  No thanks.  If I’m going to spend time inspiring budding writers, I’m more inclined to guest speak at a high school or university class or share insights in a blog comment or engage in back-and-forth banter on Twitter. This friend-of-a-friend email referral situation, though, is driving me batshit crazy.  It’s like asking my dentist, lawyer, veterinarian how I can do their job and expecting a quick, all insightful answer.  It’s impossible to sum up a decade plus of experience into a short and sweet email.  Creating a successful freelance writing career is not easy, but if I can do it, I’m guessing there are other passionate people out there who can do it too – without my help. The influx of outreach is flattering (thank you), but I'm afraid “no” is my new mantra. All of my charitible resources are maxxed out for the time being. Well, at least through June 2011.

24 November 2010

23 November 2010

media mention: we tv do good, feel good

Big thanks to Britt, WE tv's WE Volunteer blogger extraordinaire for this fantastic post on "Do Good, Feel Good."  Really appreciate the online love, Britt!

22 November 2010

passports with purpose. donate now and help build a village in india.

I am knee deep in the spirit of giving back, so when Passports with Purpose’s annual Travel Bloggers’ fundraiser rolled around, I was pretty stoked to participate.

Passports with Purpose was founded in 2008 by the Puget Sound kitten squad of Debbie Dubrow, Pam Mandel, Beth Whitman and Michelle Duffy as a way to build community among travel bloggers and to give back to the places we, as travelers, visit. Last year, 90 bloggers participated and raised almost $30,000 to build a school in rural Cambodia (complete with a school nurse and a kitchen garden that provides each child a daily meal).

This year, the social media savvy gals-on-the-go have raised the bar and are hoping to raise $50,000 to build a village, brick by brick, in rural India through our partnership with Friends of Lafti.

Here’s how PWP works: You, dear, kind, generous donor, make a tax deductible donation directly to the charitable organization (LAFTI International in 2010). For each $10 you donate, you are entered to win a prize of your choice.

The Global Citizen Project has donated a Bachmann Trains' Golden Spike Train Set (MSRP value $180). This 163-piece train set commemorates the historic event when the world's first transcontinental railroad was completed with the driving of the final Golden Spike. This set features Bachmann's exclusive E-Z Track snap-fit track and roadbed system plus a diesel locomotive with an operating headlight, open quad hopper, plug-door box car, single dome tank car, stock car, off-center caboose, 63" x 38" oval of snap-fit EZ track including 12 pieces of curved track, 6 pieces of straight track, 1 plug-in terminal rerailer, 1 manual turnout-left, undertrack magnet with brakeman figure, 1 Hayes bumper, suburban station, signal bridge, 48 figures, 36 telephone poles, 48 railroad and street signs, power pack and speed control and an illustrated instruction manual.

Donations for PWP prizes close December 13th (Note: PWP will still take donations, but you won’t be entered into a drawing after December 13th). On December 17th, PWP will notify prize winners and host bloggers.

It truly is an honor to be part of this fundraising event and to feel like, in some small way as a travel blogger, I’m able to help make a big picture impact so much greater than myself. So thank you, PWP.

20 November 2010

media mention: kirstenalana.com "woman doing good"

Let the waterworks begin.  Again.  The stars aligned on Tuesday night for travel writer and photographer, Kirsten Alana to join me and a handful of friends I haven't seen in ages at the WE Do Good Awards in New York City.  I've been a fan of hers on Twitter, but she is even lovelier live and in the flesh.  I am so thankful she was able to come kick up her heels with me and look forward to continuing a real life friendship. 

I was a nervous, emotional wreck for most of the actual WE Do Good Awards ceremony, but Kirsten captured all of the highlights oh so eloquently here.  Thank you 100 times - this is too sweet for words. XO

18 November 2010

women who rock. in other words, the we do good awards in new york city.

Deep breath. I’m not really sure how to recap the past 48-hours in New York City for the WE Do Good Awards. Morgan (my BF) and I arrived at JFK Monday afternoon and were whisked via sedan car service (read: sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours) to the swank Central Park digs of Trump International Hotel & Towers. Starved and not wanting to stray too far, we opted for cheeseburgers and martinis at Nougatine, the most casual of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s three onsite restaurants. Greg Andres joined in the evening’s festivities and was every bit as wonderful as I knew he would be.  Random side note for the food geeks: Several years ago, I crossed paths with Jean-Georges at an after hours party in Aspen and he made me a grilled cheese sandwich, which I’m sure, staved off a potentially disastrous hangover. The thought of calling in a similar late night culinary booty call did cross my mind during our stay.

Later that evening, we headed to the Rodeo Bar to see one of Morgan’s childhood friend’s, the fabulous Hugh Pool play. In typical New York City, anything is possible fashion, we were out until 4:30 a.m. and I more than made up for the absence of Yuengling in my west coast world. My basic grooming paid the price, since I opted or an extra hour sleep the following day instead of a manicure. Oh well, I'm a girl of certain priorities and fashion and beauty does not top them.

Tuesday afternoon, I finally met my lit agent live and in the flesh who doled out a much needed smack of reality on where this project was (or wasn't) going. I left his office with Julie Klausner’s new book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, which has pretty much rocked my world and I’ve only read the first section. Scott's advice, coupled with Julie's sass and some pretty big "Come to Jesus" realizations during this trip have left me wanting to take this book in a bold new direction and I think I can pull it off.

Completely inspired, Morgan and I raced back to the hotel for a primping frenzy (well, I primped – he’s a  low maintenance soap and razor only kinda guy). I’ve been living in third world countries the better part of the past five months and all beautification has gone to the wayside. I’m lucky if I throw on a bra on most days, much less worry about if my clothes match or if my cuticles are looking a little ragged. Stressed to the max and mouthing my speech in the mirror, I managed to pull it together within minutes of our driver’s arrival.

Nothing could have prepared me for the scene at Espace. Upon arrival, I was shuffled through so many people, checking in here and there and making countless introductions, until I was finally assigned a handler for the evening. Morgan and I were taken to a VIP area, where trays of tasty looking hors d’oeuvres and Champagne were passed around. I was way too nervous to partake (so very unlike me). And then the mayhem began. Myself and the two other WE Do Good Award winners, Hilari Scarl and Theresa Lucas, were escorted to the red carpet for what seemed like 10,000 photos. A sea of photographers snapped away, instructing us to look here and there, move closer, tilt this way, etc. I also got to work the red carpet in the company of the Travelocity Roaming Gnome and a super-sized check for my grant.

Then came the interviews. Reporters lined up at the end of the red carpet and we moved through the roster giving rapid fire interviews. I’ve given my fair share of interviews, but never in this wham bam thank you ma'am succession. It was pretty amazing.

The awards ceremony was fairly quick – about an hour. Sherri Shepherd hosted the festivities, rocking some of the most drop dead sexy heels I’ve ever seen and had me in stitches from start to finish with her irreverent personality. We share the same birthday (April 22, Earth Day) and I had some doubts about her, having read that she once expressed doubts as to whether the world was indeed round. I’m not even going to go there. Andie MacDowell also presented an award, as did Marlee Matlin via satellite. Other celebs on hand included Ally Sheedy, fashion designer Barbara Moses and professional poker player, Beth Shak. I’m sure there were others, but my head was swimming with giddy excitement the entire event.  Big thanks to my friends who came out to share in the celebration: Jody Diamond, Jessica Rodriguez and her lovely friend, Allison, Marisa and Adrian Carstens, Kirsten Alana Larsson, and Gregory Andres.

My award, the Travelocity Travel for Good Award was given to me by Kelly Rutherford of current Gossip Girl fame. As a thirty-something gal, I have fond memories of her role as Megan Lewis on Melrose Place back in the early 90s. She was very sweet and stunningly Grace Kelly-esque gorgeous and set the stage for me to deliver my speech --- all choked up.

Since I know you’ve all been dying to know which project I picked, Morgan and I will be volunteering for Globe Aware in Costa Rica in February. Travelocity has kindly allowed me stretch my $5,000 voluntourism grant dollars to include another person, and the way I see it, is that Globe Aware gets an extra sets of hands to help. My boyfriend has been so patient with me being an absentee volunteer girlfriend the past many months. I’m excited he gets an opportunity to share in something that is so important to me.
All in all, the event was a smashing success. It was kinda annoying that after telling official event planning powers-that-be no less than 10 times how to pronounce my name that it was botched throughout the entire ceremony. I even heard Sherri deliver it correctly during her rehearsal, but somehow, someone managed to screw up the phonetic spelling on the teleprompter. (For the bajillioneth time, it’s pronounced like Michelle Pfeiffer, not like Feffer. Sigh.) What’s not to love about getting flown to New York City for a very all-about-me whirlwind trip, spending quality time with some friends and being recognized for my volunteer work in the company of so many other like-minded and amazing women. It was a humbling experience and exactly the feel good fuel I needed as I embark on the second half of TGCP.

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making Tuesday night such a success and for making me feel like a super star. Oh, and a shameless plug: be sure to pick up the current issue of Ladies’ Home Journal to read about me and the other WE Can Do Award winners. And if you want to see more photos from the event, click here or here.

media mention: ladies' home journal

Big thanks to writer Amanda Wolfe for making me look so good in ink. Check out Ladies' Home Journal's feature on the WE Do Good Award winners here. It is such an honor to be recognized like this in their very first awards! Thank you.

12 November 2010

media: fresh-picked seattle "food volunteering: help at food lifeline"

Leslie Seaton, Seattle's go-to gal for all things food and drink wrote this lovely article about food volunteering around the holidays and featured my December project with Food Lifeline.  Hopefully, this will rally a few more volunteers to come help out next month (hint hint).  If anyone has any questions about this volunteer opportunity, please feel free to pick my brain. 

Read what Leslie wrote here!

media: tripbase "100 favorite travel writers"

Wow. This is very cool. Tripbase included me on its "100 Favorite Travel Writers" list, coming in at a very respectable #29.  What I really love is the blurb they wrote about me...always makes me smile when someone "gets" my projects. Thank you for the cyber edit love.

11 November 2010

december project preview: food lifeline in shoreline, wa

December brings me home to Seattle to volunteer with Food Lifeline, a nonprofit food distribution agency working to provide nutritious food to hungry, low-income people in Western Washington state. It was my intention to finish up TGCP somewhere close to home to emphasize the importance of volunteering within your community. But the winter and holiday seasons seem to create additional volunteer needs in Seattle (and most urban environs, I would guess), so I decided to move up my local service project in the grandmaster schedule.

That said, I am using this opportunity to encourage people within the Seattle area community to get out and volunteer during the holiday season. Already, I have 19 people signed on to come volunteer with me at Food Lifeline over the month of December, and it’s my goal to at least double that number. Who am I kidding? I’m an overachiever, so what I really mean is that I’d like to quadruple that number. Wait! Let’s make it an even 100 people.

I recently learned that some companies, like Parker Staffing Services, offer their employees paid time off per quarter to volunteer. How cool is that? (Parker Staffing Service has 10 – yes, 10! – employees joining the food distribution festivities.) If you’re a 9-to-5er, ask your boss if your company offers similar perks – you never know.

Here are the details:
I plan on volunteering in Food Lifeline’s Product Recovery Center (PRC), Monday – Friday afternoons. PRC is open Mon-Fri 8:30-4:30 and needs volunteers help sort, inspect, and repack foods that have been donated by local grocery stores. It is a physical job that requires you to stand on a concrete warehouse floor for long periods, and you will need to be able to safely lift 30-40 pounds. PRC volunteers need to be age 16 or older. They ask that volunteers make a minimum 2 hour per visit commitment, most stay for 3-4 hours, and some make a full 6-8 hour day out of their time. PRC’s morning volunteer session runs from 8:30-12:00, and afternoon session run from 12:30-4:30. Volunteers can commit to a one-time volunteer session, or you can volunteer on a few specific dates, or you can commit to help once per week.

If this opportunity doesn’t sound like your thing, that’s okay, because Food Lifeline has lots and lots of other volunteer needs. And…if you don’t feel like volunteering with Food Lifeline, that’s okay too. The bottom line is: all I want for Christmas (let’s pretend for a second that I believed in the baby Jesus) is for you to get out there and do something nice to give back to your community. Easy peasey, right? Big change doesn’t require a hero’s effort. Just a few hours of kindness can provide comfort and make you a hero to someone else -- especially during the holidays.

To register to volunteer at Food Lifeline:
Please send an email to Food Lifeline’s Volunteer Coordinator, Karen Chernotsky, karenc@fll.org and state what date(s) and time you are available to help.

Please and thank you in advance for your consideration. Seriously, gimme two hours of your time and I pinky swear promise we’ll have a blast. That’s the best thing about volunteering – it feels good.

09 November 2010

media mention: zipsetgo.com "beyond the hashtag"

Every Thursday (when I'm within sniffing distance of an internet connection), you'll find me on Twitter  participating in (and often co-hosting) Travelers' Night In.  Each week, at 3:30 p.m. ET people from around world get together to chat about travel during this ZipSetGo.com-hosted weekly tweet-up, also known as #TNI. Beyond the Hashtag is a series of interviews with #TNI regulars and friends, and follows a similar format as #TNI – 10 questions and answers.

#TNI is hands down, my fave 90-minutes of the week on social media, so it's a big honor to be featured.  Thank you April and the ZipSetGo gals.

Check out the Beyond The Hashtag article here.  See you on Twitter for the #TNI festivities!

03 November 2010

good stuff + a gala

Last week, WE tv sent a film crew to Seattle to film yours truly for the WE Do Good Awards Gala in New York City next week (insert loud squeal of excitement here). Of course, Seattle weather could not possibly cooperate, so the majority of the shoot took place inside my home sweet home. (At least I got to rock my flower-print Bogs for the outdoor segments!) It was truly an amazing day, and Loch and Kris made me feel perfectly at ease, sharing personal, and often tear-inducing stories of my volunteer work over the past five months. I cannot wait to see what visual story they tell from our all-day, show/share and tell experience, but have complete confidence that they “got” what volunteerism means to me.

I have loved every minute of my TGCP volunteer experiences (and I’m only half-way through), but it hasn’t all been easy, and a lot of it has been very emotional in nature. I am beyond honored to be recognized for this volunteer project and my volunteer efforts over the past decade by Travelocity, Ladies Home Journal and We tv. I try to imagine how I will feel when I receive this award next week in New York City and it overwhelms and humbles me. This award belongs to everyone who has played a part in making this dream happen and makes an effort to give back. If I’ve learned one thing over the past five months, it’s that it takes very little to provide comfort to another person – we all have the power to be a hero to someone else.

I plan on live tweeting from the WE Do Good Awards Gala, next Tuesday, November 16th, starting at 5:30 EST (@charynpfeuffer). Also, mark your calendars to pick up the January issue of Ladies Home Journal, which features The Global Citizen Project. So much good stuff in the works – thank you.

02 November 2010

seattleite's unpaid editorial policy burns me to a crisp (and it hasn't even launched)

Seattleite, the city’s soon-to-be “luxury lifestyle magazine and Web site for the Puget Sound region’s younger, affluent professionals” pretty much sums up everything that sucks about the publishing world right now.

Here is Seattleite’s recent job posting on Craiglist:

Date: Sunday, October 31, 2010, 9:53 AM
XXX has forwarded you this craigslist.org posting.
Please see below for more information.
Visit the posting at http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/wri/2034272913.html to contact the person who posted this.
Seattle Writers and Editors Wanted for New Publication and Web Site
Date: 2010-10-30, 3:13PM

Dying to be part of a hip and fashionably edgy in-the-know publication designed for the newest generation of Seattleites?

Introducing “Seattleite,” a luxury lifestyle magazine and Web site for the Puget Sound region’s younger, affluent professionals.

Stylish. Classy. Sophisticated. Well-traveled. Educated. Our readers aren’t your clichéd mid-90s flannel-wearing Seattle residents. They’re the new generation of urban dwellers at the social helm of our fair city. And it’s about time that a publication tailored to their needs.

We’re looking for writers and editors to be a part of our highly inspired team in the following categories: Food & Dining, Travel, Culture & Society, Style (fashion), Home & Design, Toys & Tech, and Events. If you have expertise in (or a resolute passion for) any of these categories, please send at least three writing samples (links to online work or PDFs of published articles), a 200-word or less bio about yourself, your resume and a brief explanation of what role you’d like to play – and why you should -- in the creation of “Seattleite” to editor@seattleite.com. (No published work yet? Don’t fret! Just whip up three articles, each 300 words or less, on the topic of your choosing – show us what you’re made of!) We’re aiming for a tone that is sophisticated yet subtly snarky, intelligent yet comical, high-brow but not off-putting…so take that and wow us!

The web site is currently slated to debut at the end of January, with the print publication to follow shortly after. So we're looking to build a team of writers and editors to help develop a foundation of content as soon as possible! Let us know what you've got!

This is a part-time job.
Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
Please, no phone calls about this job!
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
Original URL: http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/wri/2034272913.html

Wow. It all sounds so fancy. Before I worked myself up into a possible new outlet tizzy, I thought it best to cut to the chase and talk pay rates, so I fired off this quick email:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Seattle Writers and Editors Wanted for New Publication and Web Site
From: Charyn Pfeuffer
Date: Sat, October 30, 2010 4:04 pm
To: editor@seattleite.com


Great to hear there will be a new local print addition. I have 10+ years experience as a food and travel writer and will gladly pass along clips, bio, etc. if the per word rate is reasonable.  In the meantime, I've attached my resume for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back regarding the pay rate.  Thanks in advance for your time.

Charyn Pfeuffer

Here’s the response I got from Seattleite’s Editor-in-Chief, Allison Robins Lind:

Hi Charyn,

Thanks for your interest in contributing to Seattleite! I wanted to quickly get back to with a "full disclosure" email. I'm currently in "talks" with the publisher/founder of Seattleite to discuss pay rates. Because I come from a long-standing journalism background I understand (and appreciate) the need to get paid. Of course, this is a brand-new start-up publication and site -- meaning we're literally starting with nothing but a vision! At this point all I can get her to agree upon is that once we get an ad revenue rolling, we can "discuss a pay rate" for contributors. Until then we do, however, need to ask for unpaid work to help build editorial content as a way to bring in those ad dollars (chicken-and-egg theory in action...) Please take my word, for what it's worth, that I'm a loyal editor -- once I've established my solid, reliable team, I will FIGHT for an editorial budget for each of them. Sadly, until the money starts rolling in, my hands are tied... I've decided to take the "risk" as an initially unpaid Editor-in-Chief because I truly believe in the potential success of this publication and site...knowing that eventually I will see a paycheck! If you're at all interested in joining me in that risk, I'd be happy to talk further. Let me know your thoughts!


Allison Robins Lind
Seattleite magazine & Seattleite.com (coming soon!)
mobile: 253-223-XXXX

Right now, from wherever you are reading this, you can probably hear my laughter. So let me get this straight: Seattleite wants to create a publication geared toward the city’s young, glamorous market, but can’t even swing a Goodwill budget for its really great “vision.” Uh huh. That sounds like a fantastic idea.

When I last checked, lip service, “risks” and my favorite bartering tool du jour, links, don’t pay the bills. If a writer wants to work for free, that’s their prerogative. It’s not a school of thought I personally subscribe to, but I understand that people write for different reasons (read: some marry wealthy). I'm pretty darn proud of myself for financially supporting myself over the past 10+ years working full-time as a freelance writer. Because I’ve run my career as a business. I’ve been part of countless start-up print and online publications and have experienced the full gamut of growing pains, but providing unpaid work was never one of them.

I liken this request for free work to going grocery shopping without a wallet, but promising the check-out clerk that I’ll invite him or her over for a really kick ass meal once I’ve had some time to perfect some new recipes. Just give me an indefinite amount of time to get it right, and oh, and by the way, you can take my word on that even though you don’t know a single thing about me. Cross my heart and hope to die. Pinky swear. Blah, blah, blah...This scenario would never fly in the real world, yet it seems to be an increasingly acceptable request in our post-recession publishing world. I call bullsh*t. The job of a writer is like any other contractual agreement - a service is provided as requested, then it is paid for. End of story. 

So my advice for writers interested in contributing to Seattleite is simple: Join hands and sing Kumbaya, because it seems like the magazine’s future success depends upon its team's Positive Mental Attitude. Oh, and sweet, sweet free work. I’m sure Allison is a really swell gal, but I really cannot take requests like this seriously, much less from someone with “a long-standing journalism background." Cue more laughter.

P.S. Not paying writers is definitely not "stylish," "classy" or "sophisticated." It's an editorial faux pas and a sham to run your magazine on the backs of hard-working writers while you dream of one day having ad revenues. Good luck with that, because if I had to play fortune teller, I'm guessing that is never gonna happen.

31 October 2010

20 year anniversary: for my mother

Every year around this time, the anniversary of my mother’s death weighs heavily on my mind. Some years are easier than others. This is not an easy one. Even though next Monday marks the 20th anniversary of her death, I can still remember every day-by-day detail of her bout with lung cancer from diagnosis (August 31) to death (November 8) like it was yesterday. It's a burden I wish like hell I didn't have, yet I'm terrified to forget a single detail, because it would mean giving up some part, no matter ugly and awful, of my brief time with her.

My mother, Christine Ayn (Ehrensberger) Pfeuffer passed away when she was 38 years old. She’d been diagnosed with lung cancer less than three months before her death. I was a senior in high school and had cut school that day (as I frequently did in the ‘My mom is dying and you can’t make me come to school’ era). As I tooled around Berwyn, Pennsylvania in my mother’s, then mine by default, Chevy Blazer, I knew she died the minute Lynard Skynard’s “Freebird” come on the radio. You see, this song came on the radio at several pivotal moments during my mother’s sickness, and well, when it came on at 10:38 a.m. the day after I said a pre-emptive good-bye the night before at Fox Chase Cancer Center, I just knew. I knew.

Operating strictly on adrenaline-fueled emotional auto-pilot, I drove to Conestoga High School, because I knew people would be looking for me. I parked my car in my designated parking space and walked toward the school where my douchebag vice principal, David Cowburn was already waiting for me on the front steps. He tried to break the news and offer some condolences, but I already knew, and pushed past him to find my boyfriend, Marc. I barged into Marc’s (I forget what) class and broke the news.

From there, I raced over to the middle school to tell my younger sister, who handled the news by breaking into hysterics at her locker, claiming no one told her “she was going to die.” Fuck. That may be the pivotal moment when my life changed forevermore in ways I never imagined possible.

You see everyone deals with death differently, and believe me, everyone in my family did. As for me, I’ve see-sawed with depression and trust issues for decades as a result of my mother’s death. I have a hard time with love and tend to sabotage relationships. As a result, I have no intention of ever getting married or having children.

Truthfully, if you asked me 20 years ago, I never thought I’d live to be 40 years old. I don’t really know why, but for some reason, that always seemed like a reasonable expiration date and that I'd be able to accomplish everything I wanted to do with my life within this window of time.  And as I near my 38th birthday, the same age my mother was when she died, my head spins with weighty state of affairs thoughts and reassessments of my priorities. Rest assured, she didn’t just leave me with a therapy-worthy load of emotional baggage – I also walked away some positive lessons that have stuck with me over the years.

Two weeks before she died, I asked her if she had any regrets (pretty insightful for a 17-year-old in retrospect). She replied, “I never went to Europe…and I can never have sex again.” Her words have inspired me to travel and live a life with purpose, intention and without regret. I’ve also made it a point to never hold back from having really good sex.

My mother is the reason why I wanderlust, the reason I volunteer and give back and the reason I live large and out loud and like every day is my last. One lesson I’ve learned is that you can love someone completely and unconditionally and they can be gone the next day. Without running the risk of sounding too Oprah, my advice is to love and live like there is no tomorrow, because you never fucking know. Even 20 years later, I think about this loss every single day. It’s not easy, but it’s part of who I am and as this big round number anniversary nears within sniffing distance, I want to honor my mother for being a big part of my life for 17, too brief years on this planet, and every day beyond. I miss you.

Christine Ayn (Ehrensberger) Pfeuffer 1952-1991

23 October 2010

americans are not the most popular people on the planet (the golden rule is in effect)

Traveling abroad during a recent presidential administration required making a lot of apologies. People would frequently criticize our government and policies, and frankly, I didn’t blame them. I tried to put my best American face forward to convince other global citizens that not everyone subscribed to a certain leader’s school of thought. Once Obama was sworn into office, I thought our public perception would improve – slowly – but was met with a lot of skepticism about what would happen next. I still encounter a lot of doubts (albeit a lot less angry), but find when you strip away all of perceptions about our government and foreign policies, a lot of people just aren't all that enthralled with Americans.

At least that’s the message that comes through loud and clear as I volunteer abroad. I guess I got spoiled traveling the world primarily with travel writers over the past several years. No matter where these writers hailed from, there was for the most part, unspoken open-mindedness and cultural compassion. Five volunteer projects into The Global Citizen Project, I find that our public perception on the global scale isn’t all that endearing and that I have to try extra hard to win people over the minute they find out where I’m from.

Far and wide, people seem to peg the stereotypical American something like this: We talk ten decibels louder than anyone else, dominate conversations, rudely interrupt and think we know it all. Unfortunately, this sounds spot on when I think of several of the Americans I’d volunteered with along the way. Sure, every single one of us is raised to think we’re the world’s almightiest super power, but have we taken our go-team-go mentality to narcissistic extremes on the worldwide travel playground? It stings to hear what other travelers' perceptions, but there are some truths to their words, and I am glad I can (hopefully) show them that not all Americans are alike. Some of us, dare I say, a lot of us, travel to learn from others.

These perceptions rolled around in my mind the morning I left my volunteer project in Ecuador. As my plane taxied to the runway, we were forced to turn back to the gate because an American passenger refused to turn his cell phone off. On the second leg of my flight itinerary, another American insisted on using his BlackBerry during take-off. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t so important that whatever message he had to send couldn’t wait the short two hour flight. The more I looked, the more I saw the ugly, “me first” mentality my international friends pointed out. Rude people come from all places, but still, it wasn’t pretty.

America may be the superpower of the world, but that doesn’t it make it okay to journey through the world thinking every interaction is all about us. We’re lucky to live in the U.S. (more than most people will ever know), but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers or that we’re always right. There’s a lot to learn from other countries and cultures, but as travelers, we need to shut up, practice some compassion and listen. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wish to be called out for my fellow American travelers’ bad behavior, because I know that is not what our country is all about. We’re just one piece in the grandmaster puzzle of this globe.

22 October 2010

november project preview: fuck cancer | vancouver, bc | canada

Where: Fuck Cancer started as a T-shirt movement, but quickly evolved into a movement to change how cancer is perceived and diagnosed in our society, and how cancer survivors perceive themselves. It’s about early detection and treatment. It’s about fighting back and regaining control. It’s about sharing the stories and spreading the word. When I lost my mother to cancer nearly two decades ago, she was frustrated by the lack of information available, communication within the medical system and not having a platform for her voice to be heard. I think it’s important to give cancer victims the permission and power to battle their disease head on.

Significance: This project is slated for November to coincide with the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death to cancer (November 8th, to be exact). My former volunteer coordinator at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center and dear friend, Tammy Dyson, also resides in Vancouver, B.C., which further adds to its time and place significance.

media mention: ragan.com

Yours truly, a.k.a. "influential blogger" and "@global_gourmet" is mentioned in today's feature on ragan.com, Four Seasons keeps it personal via social media.  Thank you, Matt Wilson for including me!

quinta das abelhas: more small farms means more locally produced food, which makes the planet happy

As a food and travel writer, I firmly believe if you’re going to blog or write about restaurants, you need to spend some time working in one to fully understand how the business works. It’s one thing to sit at your perfectly set table on the receiving end of (hopefully) delicious food and fine tuned service, but an entirely different thing to understand how many hands are involved in making that meal appear in the minutes after you say, “I’d like the steak, please - medium rare.”

After my first week at Quinta Das Abelhas, I feel that anyone who eats – period – should spend some time WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), or at the very least, on a small, organic farm. I’ve volunteered in Seattle at Marra Farm, a four acre plot within the city limits that produces more than 16,000 pounds of food for the local community. But dropping by to play urban farmer for an afternoon is drastically different from living the day-to-day reality of what goes into making a self-sufficient farm function.

My duties at Quinta Das Abelhas ran the gamut from harvesting basketfuls of vegetables from the gardens and readying beds for the winter with fertilizer and seeds to making quince jelly with fresh picked fruit, helping to remove mud from a trench after a heavy rainfall to building a stone wall. After more than a decade of declaring defeat when working with yeast, Sophie even helped me bake my first successful loaf of bread. The list of what I’m learning about self-sufficiency is endless. The beauty of volunteering in this kind of environment is that there is always something to do, the work is rarely repetitive and it’s fun. I love, love, love being here.

I decided to WWOOF with Quinta Das Abelhas because I try to eat locally and seasonally whenever possible and take great interest in knowing where food comes from. Portugal is a far distance from Seattle (5,836 miles each way to be exact – I have a lot of carbon footprint making up to do), it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and got a really good feeling about Andy and Sophie from their website and blog. (I also saw a photo of a gigantic zucchini a friend’s father in Lisbon had grown and had a feeling that people around these parts knew a thing or two about farming.) My gut was spot on. I know a lot of people who’d pay large sums of money for this kind of experience and to achieve the peace I’ve experienced here.

For starters, the property is stunningly beautiful. So even when you’re shoveling manure, you can’t help but have repeated “ah ha” moments. I’m no skilled farm hand, but even so, you feel like you’re playing some small part in the success of a small, family run operation and that feels good. It takes a lot of hands, heart and sweat to make this place run. For all of your hard work, volunteers are rewarded with amazing meals made by Andy and some of the sweetest slumbers ever – I’ve made no secret about how much I love living in my comfy, cozy yurt. After volunteering with four other organizations over the past four months, working for kind people who truly care makes a huge difference. (That’s probably the number one thing I’m grateful for.) Living at Quinta Das Abelhas is a simpler way of life than I’m accustomed to, but it imparts such incredible feelings of calm and satisfaction, that I’m already scheming ways to adopt some of these aspects when I resume my usual urban routine.

My time at Quinta Das Abelhas reiterated something I feel strongly about: More small farms means more locally produced food, which makes the planet happy. Would you rather be on a first name basis with the farmers who grow your food or do you prefer food that has wracked up thousands of airline miles to make it to your plate? A silly question, really. In a perfect world, less people would eat food produced in massive industrial farms and far off places and more would support the individual people who put so much care into making sure our food is safe, healthy and delicious. WWOOF and you’ll understand why.

28 September 2010

post-project review: sumak kawsay yachay in salasaca, ecuador

I arrived in Quito for Project #4 of The Global Citizen project without much of a plan, except to make my way to Salasaca, a town of 12,000 people on the road between Ambato and Baños. I knew very little about Ecuador, its capital city and even less about Salasaca and the organization I’d be volunteering with, Sumak Kawsay Yachay. I arrived in Salasaca in the middle of a Friday afternoon and from the minute I jumped into the back of a camioneta and hitched a ride to the bibioteca, I found solace in not knowing what was going to happen next. At the biblioteca, I met David, a dry-witted, 30-something Brit who walked me up a dirt road, lined with agave plants and roaming farm animals of all varieties to Pachamama Hostal, comfortable digs to a dozen or so volunteers.

Pachamama Hostal is a quirky, A-Frame homestead built precariously into the side of a hill. It boasts the most amazing vistas of Salasaca and surrounding villages; many hours were spent on its terrace soaking up the scenery, sunshine and hoots and hollers of nearby soccer (I mean futbol) games. Interesting note: there are 48 organized futbol teams in Salasaca. There’s a main community area where meals are shared, right next to a commercial-style kitchen. The hostel is divided into six rooms and can accommodate around 15 volunteers at a time. Rooms vary from a semi-dank dorm style room to a cozy attic slash alcove sleeping area to a spacious suite for couples.

Sumak Kawsay Yachay is a Kichua phrase that means, “a better/more beautiful life through education.” SKY is run by American expat, Robert Jeffords, who funds the small organization with his pension. Jeffords is one of the most endearing people you will ever meet and even morning-phobic me looked forward to eating porridge (he made daily) with him and the other volunteers promptly at 6:30 a.m. In the evenings, volunteers teamed up in groups of two or three to make dinner for the group as a once a week duty.  Cooking got quite competitive as teams tried to scheme up 3-course menus that cost roughly $1 per person (it was done quite successfully on several occasions during my stay).

Volunteers can get involved with Katitawa Escuela or the biblioteca in a variety of capacities. Longer term volunteers can take the initiative to create their own language and class programs (for example, David started a drum class and other volunteers helped teach local artisans useful phrases for conducting commerce). Volunteers work Monday through Friday, starting at 8 a.m. Classes at Katitawa Escuela go until 2 p.m. and there are opportunities to work later in the day, either teaching language classes or working at the biblioteca. Robert expects volunteers to work a minimum of six hours a day; many work more.

I took the route of “put me to work where you need help” and ended up working with the kindergarten class (which compared to U.S. school systems was preschool). It probably wasn’t the best fit for me, but I diversified my attention to other projects like helping to build a stone wall, covering nighttime biblioteca shifts, moving large amounts of fertilizer to the escuela’s garden and feeding the chickens. I can do pretty much anything for a few weeks – even wrangling short attention spanned preschoolers. And once we implemented a few helpful tricks, like locking the kids in the classroom during class, taking away all sharp edged implements (there was a box cutter incident), and generously using words like “cuidado” and “venga aqui,” things were smooth(er) sailing. (I've learned that I better connect with kids a few years older in age, but that's just a personal preference.)

Volunteering with SKY was hands down my favorite project so far. I loved the project, the place (both Katitawa Escuela and the small town of Salasaca), the other volunteers, the students (well, except for one we nicknamed "Rat Features," anyway) and Robert. I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with this perfect volunteer project storm, and hope to return for a longer period of time once I’m through with this year-long tour de force. I also hope to stay in touch with a lot of the volunteers I worked with. It’s rare to find yourself in a dynamic where everything clicks, and although volunteers worked their butts off Monday-Friday, we found plenty of time to play, explore or relax on the weekends and spend time getting to know one another. It was a very simple, yet satisfying way of living and I’m all for playing rural girl in Salasaca with SKY again.

27 September 2010

volunteer expectations

As I get into my volunteer groove and have the first four projects of The Global Citizen Project under my belt, I’m beginning to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me in a volunteer role. Volunteering is a lot more challenging than I imagined it would be and has repeatedly pushed me past my usual comfort zone. It can be disconcerting and maddening and even scary at times, but every time I accomplish something I didn’t think possible, I am grateful for the opportunity to test my personal limits and proud of myself. Like put a gold star sticker on the fridge proud. I’m guessing every person has their own volunteering style, but here are a few things that I've found helpful:

Spell out on-the-ground directions. Example: When you land at XYZ airport, here’s how you get to us. I want to know the name of the bus line or its number, estimated travel times and costs involved. I am terrible with direction, so having accurate instruction upon arrival alleviates any post-flight logistical panic.

Be clear with expectations. I'm comfortable working about 6-8 hours a day. Much more than that makes me feel like I’m being taken advantage of. Also, I want to get a sense of the local culture, so I prefer five or six day work weeks (like in the real, paid working world). Work the volunteer to death and you can almost guarantee an almost instant decrease in productivity and enthusiasm.

Be honest about living situations and accommodations. Don’t tell me I’ll be staying in a bed and breakfast, when the digs make a beer soaked fraternity house look luxurious. I can deal with no hot water, compostable toilets, paper thin mattresses and non-heated housing, but only if I’m prepared.

Define the volunteer role. If I’ve signed on to assist a preschool class, I don’t expect to come up with lesson plans or take over teaching entirely when the teacher doesn’t feel like showing up. Be specific in what you expect from me and I'll do my best to deliver. I'm not a mind reader, so communication is key.

Give me space. I’m learning how to get along (better) with others and cohabitate in close, often very rustic quarters with a wide variety of personalities. I try to be as respectful as possible and learn from the never-ending rotating roster of global do-gooders I encounter, but definitely need some down time to process what I’m doing and check in with myself. I’ve run into several volunteers who operate on verbal auto-loop of all-about-me stories and have had to respectfully inform them that every single second of time spent together does not need to be filled with conversation.

Give me the tools to do my job. I want to do a good job, really I do, but if you don’t give me the tools to my job (whether it’s information, support or supplies), I can’t be as productive as I’m sure we’d both like.

Volunteers, what else have you found helpful in your efforts to serve? I'm still learning, a lot by trial and error since each of my projects varies so much, and always looking to improve.

26 September 2010

the secret garden in quito, ecuador is looking for volunteers

I didn’t know my ass from my elbow when it came to my first foray traveling in Ecuador. I booked my ticket to Quito to volunteer with Santa Martha Animal Rescue, which in a most unprofessional fashion informed me that it had folded (basically because its founder is a thin-skinned cry baby who couldn’t handle criticism from volunteers). I scrambled in a state of non-refundable airline ticket panic to find a replacement project and stumbled across Sumak Kawsay Yachay (SKY) on the internet. Plan B was in effect!

I'm usually pretty organized with my travel logistics. I do a reasonable amount of pre-travel research and create a project itinerary (partially for my benefit, but also to leave at home in case something bad happens to me). But, when it came to flying into Quito, I really didn’t have a clue. My flight arrived at 6:05 p.m., too late to embark on the 3-hour bus trip to Salasaca (As a rule, I don’t like to arrive in strange destinations after dark), so I needed a hostel. Natch, I turned to my fave word-of-mouth resource, Twitter, and got several recommendations for The Secret Garden in the San Blas neighborhood of Quito.

I shot The Secret Garden an email to make a reservation and arrange for an airport pick-up ($10 USD), which was quickly confirmed. Upon touch down in Quito (a terrifying landing I wasn’t prepared for) I made way through customs and immigration and found a driver holding a “The Secret Garden” sign. We wove up and down hilly streets during rush hour traffic and arrived at the five story hostel a little after dusk.

Check-in was a breeze and I was quickly led to my fourth floor “Orange” dorm room, bunk #5 to be exact. Dorm-style rooms tend to be on the small and cramped size (my room accommodated six people), but they’re clean, beds are reasonably comfy and there are small lockers available to store valuables. For $8.80 a night, it’s a great value. Well maintained bathroom facilities are situated in the hall and shared by several rooms. Hot water was a bit iffy – I’ve found that when it is available in South America, sometimes it helps to turn the water pressure down to the lowest possible trickle to get heat. There’s also free WiFi, three computers you can rent for .50 cents an hour and a terrace with amazing city and mountain views, where daily, three meals are served for a nominal fee. The terrace is also a popular destination to grab a few Pilseners before a night on the town (the terrace closes at 11 p.m.). The hostel can also organize day tours or Spanish classes. Even though I’m a bit older than the usual hostelling age demographic, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at The Secret Garden. So much in fact, that I stayed there again the night before I flew out of Quito.

The Secret Garden runs on volunteers and is always looking for help. In exchange for volunteer hours, the hostel offers free accommodation, food, all drinks, 10 hours of Spanish classes and more. The hostel’s new Cotopaxi location is also looking for volunteers. Click here for more information.

25 September 2010

give thanks to twitter

The first 48-hours of my trip to Ecuador were especially kind to me and I must give thanks to Twitter. I cyber hitchhiked a ride to Westlake Center to grab the light rail to Sea-Tac for my red-eye flight to Miami and Domenic (@DEPagliaro) answered the call. Domenic is a fellow Philadelphia sports fan and we’ve bantered back and forth on Twitter for months. I even lured him into Travelers’ Night In and he’s become a faithful participant (except when he's responding to respond to oil spills, hurricane recovery efforts, and other emergency situations for the oil and gas industry).

Shortly after touchdown at one of my top three least fave domestic airports, Miami International Airport, I was picked up by Raquel (@AiresLibre), one of the folks who donated to The Global Citizen Project, who’s also grown to be one of my fave Twitter friends. We headed to Little Havana for a proper Cuban breakfast of empanadas, pastelitos and croqeutas – all washed down with strong Cuban coffee. Afterwards, we cruised along Ocean Drive before stopping at Lincoln Road Mall where we split a pre-flight bottle of Prosecco. Before noon. Raquel is a girl after my heart who knows bubbly has no time and place boundaries. Amen.

Happy and sated, I breezed through TSA and boarded my flight for Quito. Upon arrival, I hopped in a (prearranged) cab and headed to The Secret Garden hostel in the San Blas section of town ($10 cab fare, pre-arranged via the hostel). I dropped off my bags, quickly freshened up, and met up with Alison (@aliadventures7), a travel blogger based in Atlanta, who was in Quito taking a Spanish immersion course. Over Cuba Libres and Pilseners, we dished about Twitter, the travel personalities of Twitter, and globetrotting in general. As Alison poured herself into a cab to head home, I walked up the hill to The Secret Garden with an ear-to-ear smile on my face. In less than 48-hours, I met three really great people my path probably never would have intersected with without the power of Twitter.

25 things about me

1. I have been intimately involved with (at least) 4 men who are now gay.

2. The only food I really can’t stand is blue cheese. The stinky foot smell is a dealbreaker.

3. At the age of 16, I managed to get into a car accident exactly one hour after I got my driver’s license. Thankfully, I was not the driver at fault.

4. I rarely go to sleep before 3 a.m. Ever. This explains why you’ll almost never receive an email response or Facebook update from me before noon on any given day.

5. One week before my mother passed away at the age of 38, she revealed an end-of-life regret: “I never went to Europe.” I think this single sentence is why I’m driven to write about travel and where I got my insatiable wanderlust from.

6. I don’t have a journalism degree. I got my start at writing while working at the Philadelphia Weekly running the Personals & Promotions department. I made my grand editorial debut with a weekly dating advice column, called Ask Me Anything and things took off from there.

7. I once made three trips to the grocery store and spent more than $100 in ingredients trying to make a Bon Appétit “Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Bun” recipe. The yeast and I couldn’t come to culinary terms and I ended up buying bagels instead. I have not touched a single recipe that involves yeast ever since.

8. The summer of 2005 was rough – I had E.coli (twice), Plesiomonas Shigelloides and Edwardsiella Tarda. If you’re not a Gastrointestinal doc or a water microbiologist, I’ll let you Google all the gory details.

9. When I signed my first book contract, I bought a small pair of diamond stud earrings and a $500 La Perla bra and panty set. I don’t really care much about jewelry, but feel there are some basic essentials every woman should own and a drop-dead sexy pair of skivvies tops the list.

10. I don’t like forced heat. I’d rather build a fire or bundle up than subject myself to electric heat. If I fall asleep in a forced heat environment, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll wake up with a bloody nose.

11. At one point in my career, I was simultaneously authoring children’s books and writing content for an adult website. I’m pretty sure that is some kind of sin, but the money was way too lucrative in the latter field and I didn’t have to use a byline.

12. Until maybe a year or so ago, I would always go to water when I needed clarity in my life or needed to make some sort of big decision. Nowadays, I find solace in the mountains.

13. Like clockwork, I crave an In-N-Out burger (Animal Style, of course) or super-greasy pizza after I’ve been traveling. Since moving (back) to Seattle, my In-N-Out fix has been replaced with burgers at The Counter, King’s Hardware or Hattie’s Hat.

14. I feel strangely comfortable in hardware/home repair stores. Power tools and men that can fix things really turn me on.

15. I am fiercely protective of the people I care about.

16. I’m extremely grateful for my talented circle of writer friends. The constant give and take of ideas, sources, leads, creativity and general support is a never-ending source of inspiration. I’m also lucky to work with a roster of rock star editors.

17. I had a gym membership for over a year in Seattle without every stepping foot into the facility.  I continue to use the parking pass, most recently to get gelato.

18. I adopted my Boxer-mix beast, Gus, from the Stockton SPCA after a big, bad break-up. Some women buy shoes, binge on Ben & Jerry’s or have amazing break-up sex – I took on the responsibility of an abused, 3 month old puppy that was on 24-hour doggy death row.

19. Even though I am a frequent hotel guest, I still get giddy when I spend the first night in a (nice) hotel solo.

20. In everyday life, I’m not the world’s most patient person, but manage to possess massive reserves of patience when travel/meeting new people, especially when trying to find common ground.

21. Kids are great. I just like the flexibility and freedom of my life way too much to go through the process of having any of my own.

22. I swoon for the Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library in Seattle. The Seattle Public Library system in general is outstanding.

23. I think 99.9% of what is on TV these days is mindless crap.

24. I was born on Easter and my birthday falls on Earth Day.

25. I used to think I was really good at Scrabble – until I met Morgan. We play regularly and I win, on average, maybe one time a year. It’s kind of sad, but I still love the game and I haven’t completely given up hope. Sigh.

photos: project #4 sumak kawsay yachay in salasaca, ecuador

The Global Citizen Project is officially one-third complete and my latest project in Salasaca, Ecudaor was hands down the best one yet.  Check out my photos from my volunteer project with Sumak Kawsay Yachay and Kaititawa Escuela here.

24 September 2010

october project preview: quinta das abelhas in tábua, coimbra, portugal

Where: Tábua is located in central Portugal; it’s essentially a rural region of breeding cattle and producing corn, wine, chestnuts, cork and olive oil.

What: Work varies with the seasons but usually includes digging, weeding, planting and watering in the gardens, harvesting and preserving, mucking out the animals, building work, general maintenance and keeping the place tidy, household chores and childcare.

Significance: Quinta das Abelhas is part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). WWOOF is a network where in return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

This project coincides with harvest, and as an avid foodie, home chef and Slow Food member, I take great interest in learning about food sources and eating locally and seasonally whenever possible.

07 September 2010

the votes have been tallied, and...

Yay. Yay. Yay. I am over the moon ecstatic. Thanks to your votes, I won a $5,000 voluntourism grant from Travelocity’s Travel for Good® program. I’ve been more than lucky in my 37 years, but this is one of the biggest and bestest honors bestowed upon me. Ever. I’m in awe of how many amazing people I have rooting for me and The Global Citizen Project to succeed. Thank you.

Details are still a bit fuzzy, but I’ll be headed to the Big Apple the week of November 15th for WE tv’s gala award event. This is exactly one week after the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death, so there is a lot personal significance in winning this award beyond its obvious awesomeness. I will also need to pick a voluntourism project from one of Travelocity’s four program partners (tough decision). As if that’s not cool enough, I will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Ladies’ Home Journal and receive a free subscription for my future reading pleasure.

All around, it’s one heckuva win and I am thrilled to accept. I cannot thank you all enough for voting and persevering my incessant reminders to vote. You all rock and I’m so glad you’re on my team. You make me feel like I can do anything.

02 September 2010

we live in public

More than a decade ago, I ran the Personals and Promotions Department at the Philadelphia Weekly. Every week, I’d help hundreds of lonely hearts pen personal ads that would hopefully, land them a love connection (and help fill my 10-page, back-of-the-paper section). In addition to offering up my wordsmithing skills, I’d coordinate singles events on a weekly basis – everything from awkward heterosexual meet and greets at hipster bars to bump and grind gay dance parties to the occasional “Anything Goes” swingers soiree for the dirty birds. I could fill more pages than you can imagine with my experiences, and if you buy me a beer sometime, I may be willing to dish some of the more (ahem) colorful details.

My dating life never sucked more than once I’d started penning the widely popular advice column “Ask Me Anything,” and was deemed the local dating guru. Sure, I was the first point of contact for hundreds of eligible bachelors, and I even dabbled in a few first dates with some of my more charming advertisers, but the most long term commitment I managed to muster up was a stalker who landed himself in jail (and then proceeded to harass me for more than a decade). Since this incident, I’ve been fiercely protective of my identity and whereabouts, going so far as to use pseudonyms in several editorial outlets and use a mailbox service several miles from my residence.

So when the world of social media started to evolve, the idea of sacrificing my privacy gave me serious pause. I’d fought so long to keep a low-profile, but was wooed by Facebook and Twitter and blogging and new possibilities of networking and personal connections that I decided to take a chance when I launched my Kickstarter fundraising campaign last November. I mean, there was no way in the world I could ask strangers to help fund The Global Citizen Project without full disclosure of who I was. I don’t regret my decision for a second.

Since then, I’ve made countless friends via social media networks and have never, ever had a less-than-stellar experience with a cyber someone I’ve met in real life (or IRL in Twitter speak). There’s a long “wish list” of Twitter friends I hope to someday cross paths with, but in the meantime, I practice reasonable cyber caution and welcome the possibility of making acquaintances via avatars, handles and 140 character limits.

Next week, I especially look forward to meeting Raquel Segura (@aireslibre) on a long layover in Miami, then Alison Garland (@AliAdventures7) when I arrive in Quito, Ecuador. When it comes to socializing and making connections, we live in a very different world these days. It's weird and crazy and absolutely fascinating, and I find that if you open yourself up to it, there are some really beautiful connections to be made via social media.