the wonderful world of veena.

31 March 2014

12 of 52: a return to the races.

For anyone who grew up or lived in Arkansas, going to the horse races at Oaklawn was a staple each spring. Our family would generally go the last weekend during our Spring Break, spending two days getting dressed up and hanging out in the comforts of the Jockey Club.

My father is big into going over the tip sheets and seeing who the favourites are, so I would always sit next to him and see who he was betting on before I made my choices. My number one rule was to always bet on Pat Day, a jockey who raced at Oaklawn for ages and ages. And he rarely ever let me down. Beyond that, Calvin Borel was generally a solid choice, and after that I would bet on horses' names and what colours the jockey would be wearing. The bets were for $2, and whether or not I won, it was a fun experience walking up to the lobby, choosing who I wanted to place my bet with, and giving my mother my money since I wasn't old enough to place the bet myself.

After I went to boarding school and college, I've not had a chance to return to the races. My parents still try to go once a year, but I always had meetings or exams or work and was never able to join them. When I asked about it this year, we found a weekend that worked for all three of us, and I invited Britney to join us for the day. It was only on the drive to Hot Springs on Friday that I realized it's been 16 years since I last went to the races!

We began our visit with a long-held tradition: dinner at La Hacienda. Quite possibly my father's favourite restaurant, this is always where we eat on our first night in town. For some reason I really didn't like going there when I was in middle school; I don't think I had a reason for my dislike, I think I was just being an annoying pre-teen. Who knows. Regardless, the tradition has continued, and I found on Friday that I very much enjoyed the food, especially the green salsa they give you with the chips.

On Saturday Britney met us at the hotel and we headed over to Oaklawn. As always, it's a bit of a shit-show finding parking and crossing the street and getting programs and tip sheets. We got to our table and ordered some nachos - seriously amazing nachos - and settled in to start picking our horses. Calvin Borel and Ramon Vasquez - my favourite jockeys - came in big for me, as did the Indian owners who had two horses win races. The horse named after the Delta won, but the one named after bourbon did not. Bummer.

In the end I lost about $20, which at Oaklawn almost feels like a win, so I'm going to be happy with it. We spent a fun Saturday cheering for our horses and stuffing our faces and generally enjoying ourselves. I always wish I could spend a few more days, but I'm glad to have finally gotten back, even for just a day.

And if you ever find yourself in Arkansas in the spring and wondering what to do, head down to Hot Springs and check out the races. You might even win some money.


[bee and i snuck into the 'triple crown lounge' between races to take ridiculous pictures. this is what you get when you take us to fancy places]
other highlights included: lunch at Rhodes where I finally got to see the newly-renovated Rat; Stanford v Dayton NCAA Sweet 16 game at the Forum.

Happy week with some hopefully gorgeous weather ahead!
xx

40 days of giving back, day twenty-three: milk, no sugar.

So for today my challenge was to share a warm drink with a friend. While I love the idea of this, spring has arrived in Memphis and with it has brought temperatures in the mid 70s, which makes a warm beverage sound not very appealing.

So instead, I will be dining with Katie Walsh tomorrow evening. We generally see each other every 10 days or so for a meal or a Rhodes sporting event, but between both of our schedules these last few weeks, it's been a while since we got to catch up over some food.

Our staple go-to is India Palace, and neither of us have been tot he Palace in far too long. We generally got some good rockstar treatment whenever we're there complete with free starters and/or dessert, so you can see why we like it there so much.

So I'm saving up my "warm drink" for tomorrow's dinner. Works for me.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs
Day Eighteen - #charitytuesday
Day Nineteen - don't hold back the wonderful
Day Twenty - Always Talk to Strangers
Day Twenty-One - Pray
Day Twenty-Two - Unplug

30 March 2014

11 of 52: a working holiday in new york city.

I know I am late on getting this post up, and I will do a full review with my thoughts on all the places I visited and things I did in the coming weeks [months?], but I did want to get a quick little post up about my recent trip to New York City.

[day one: maggie and i met adam braun; got my books signed; met brandon stanton; scored a free t-shirt]
As we all know by this point, I have been working with The Wandering Samaritan for almost 3 months now. I have been helping Jason, our Founder and Executive Director, with a number of things during the organization's launch, but until last week, we had never actually met in person. Being that he is a friend of my brother's, we had a connection, but getting to New York is difficult and expensive when you don't have an income.

With Jason heading to south Asia for the month of April, and with an influx of friends moving into the NY area, we decided it was time for me to make a quick visit for us to meet and hammer out some details of things I need to work on while he's gone, and also for me to get to spend some time with all my fun friends in the area.

[day two: slowly learning my way around the subway; asian feasting at home; binge-watching first round ncaa games]
I was in town for 7 days, and it was pretty awesome. I FINALLY got my bearings in the city and made a dent in learning the subway system, which I am going to chalk up as a win. I ate a lot and drank more than I should have, but it was a great week of both working and playing in a really cool city.

I stayed with my cousin Abi in the Nolita area of SoHo and spent my days wandering into Jason's area and Maggie's home in different parts of Brooklyn as well as up into Union Square and the Upper West Side.

[day three: impromptu subway jam; making lots of lists for work; romantic dinner with moo; the headless horseman; discovering some south in the middle of manhattan]
I got to meet Brandon Stanton of Humans Of New York and Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise and got my copies of their books signed. I got to visit the Girl Rising offices in Manhattan and meet many of the people who are working on the campaign and the video. Jason and I visited the Foundation Center and got a crash course on how to utilize their online resources to help us in our work. Sastri came down from Poughkeepsie for a day, and we spent the afternoon wandering through the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Maggie and I fashioned our own pub crawl and ended up discovering some fun places, both near Union Square and just down the road from my cousin's house. And to top it all off, Maggie and Tyler joined Abi and me for a super fun night of dinner and drinks before my last night in town.

I have long been fascinated with and intimidated by the idea of New York City. As a child we took a family trip when I was around 7 or 8, so it's a hazy blur of visiting our family friends on Staten Island, seeing the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty - and getting to ride the ferry! - and seeing an Amitabh concert at The Meadowlands.

[day four: salmon benedict for brunch; visiting the dinosaurs; best friend bonding; late afternoon stroll through Central Park; feasting on some ribs and fried okra]
I was there in early September of 2010 for a whirlwind visit of 3.5 days, and I just never felt like I got settled in. I arrived there after 6 weeks of traveling in Europe and was pretty exhausted, and the subway system confused the crap out of me after two weeks of the user-friendliness of London's Underground. I had a great time, but I just never felt grounded, and I was eager to return and prove to myself that I could find my way around and figure it out.

I was able to do that on this visit, and I have to admit that I fell just a little bit in love with the city. I know part of it is because I was there for such a short time, so I definitely left wanting more. Would I be as enamored if I lived there full-time? Who knows. It would depend on where I lived, who I lived with, how busy I am with work v how much time I have for fun things and enjoying everything that goes on in the city.

[day five: first unofficial wandering samaritan meeting; the 'best pizza in town' according to jason; playing around with some temporary tattoos; hashtag competitions]
But will I be back? Definitely. And probably sooner rather than later.

other highlights included: getting to stay in DC an extra day because of the snow. pretty much everything else is listed above.

[visiting the girl rising offices in the abc building; my first ever deli sandwich; nutella-filled awesomeness for dessert; hanging out with tyler; amazing 3am pizza]
A week in a fun city of working and hanging out with fun people? I could use a few more of those.
xx

40 days of giving back, day twenty-two: unplug.

Now this is a challenge I can really get behind: unplugging for a day. No computers, no smartphones [or phones of any sort, if I have my way], as little television as possible. A day to reconnect with humanity and not be stuck in front of a screen the whole day.

It didn't happen yesterday, unfortunately, but I've already got a day lined up for it -- this Tuesday. Work is going to be a little hectic today and tomorrow as we finish up some stuff before Jason leaves for south Asia, but as of now my only plan for Tuesday is to sleep in and read and hang out with my parents. I always love a day when I can avoid computers and phones, and practically being ordered to do so makes me pretty ecstatic.

So here's to a day of unplugging and spending time with people again.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs
Day Eighteen - #charitytuesday
Day Nineteen - don't hold back the wonderful
Day Twenty - Always Talk to Strangers
Day Twenty-One - Pray

28 March 2014

40 days of giving back, day twenty-one: pray.

I will admit that this challenge is a difficult one for me, as I am not someone who prays regularly. My faith is complicated, and while I am spiritual person who believes we get out of life what we give, my religious beliefs are not as cut-and-dried.

I do, however, very much believe in the power of positive thinking. Not in a super New Age kind of way, but just in a "if I really believe in something, it will come true" kind of way.

I also know that there are a lot of people in the world who are in need of some positive thoughts - or prayer, if you believe in it - and who are always asking for prayer requests and such on various social media outlets. While that is not my personal style, I do always add those people to my thoughts and hope they will come through their difficult situations.

For today, since I don't sit down and pray, I thought I would use tonight's journal entry to make a list of all the people I know who are in need of some extra positive energy. The list will remind me to keep those people in particular mind in the coming days and weeks as they work through their situations, and hopefully a little bit of that energy I put out will find its way to them.

Seems like a win-win situation for us all, right?
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs
Day Eighteen - #charitytuesday
Day Nineteen - don't hold back the wonderful
Day Twenty - Always Talk to Strangers

40 days of giving back, day twenty: always talk to strangers.

Somehow we are already at the halfway mark of this challenge. It's flown by, and yet I also feel like I'm behind on these, simply from not being around. With the exception of tomorrow, I will be in town for the next two weeks, so hopefully I will be a little better at keeping up with these, and whoever [whomever?] is out there reading these won't be inundated with 3 updates a day as I scramble to catch up.

So Day Twenty. The challenge to talk to strangers. We all know I'm a talker, and I'm not very selective in who I'll talk to. I love having little conversations with people I pass in a store or on the street, and yesterday I managed to have quite an entertaining little chat with my cashier in Target about how awesome it is that they give a discount for bringing your own reusable bags. It's only 5 cents per bag, but it adds up. We discussed why Kroger stopped doing it and how they need to bring it back, and also how Target needs to up the ante to $1 per bag to really encourage people to start bringing their own bags. It was an enjoyable little conversation, and it's little things like that that can make a tedious process just a little more fun.

Obviously there are times when perhaps you shouldn't talk to strangers, and "stranger danger" can be a real thing, but most of the times it's harmless and can really make your day - and someone else's - just a little bit brighter.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs
Day Eighteen - #charitytuesday
Day Nineteen - don't hold back the wonderful

40 days of giving back, day nineteen: don't hold back the wonderful.

Another great one that fell on a difficult day. I know, I know, I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. Being out of town nearly 2 weeks in a row made it a little difficult to keep up with all of these properly, but I'm trying my best.

So this challenge was to leave a note for someone just because. Someone I know who's struggling with something or in need of some words of encouragement, or even just a random note to brighten a stranger's day. Because I spend most of my days working from home, that one seems a little difficult, but I think I just thought of a great opportunity to follow through on this. I need to get my act together in order to take care of it quickly, and I need to go through my piles of notecards to find the best one, but I think a little happy will really brighten this someone's day.

Giving and sending notes is a favourite of mine, so any opportunity to do just that is one I'm always happy to take. In this day and age of emails and Facebook messages, I just love the feeling of a handwritten note, however short or long it may be, that shows someone you're thinking of them and care enough to take the time to show them that in a meaningful way. The art of correspondence will never die as long as I'm around!

So take 5 minutes today - or even an hour - and write a little note to someone who you know will really appreciate it.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs
Day Eighteen - #charitytuesday

27 March 2014

40 days of giving back, day eighteen: #charitytuesday.

A day not only to talk about a cause or organization but to actually give back to that cause. On Day 15, I mentioned a number of organizations that I love to support, but I realized that other than spreading verbal awareness, I had never actually contributed to Girl Rising or to their Girl Rising Fund or movement in general.

To rectify this, I did two things. First, I purchased the DVD and a shirt from the Girl Rising online shop, with a portion of the proceeds going into the Fund. I know it's not the same as putting all of that money directly into the fund, but I'd like to use the movie and the shirt to spread some more awareness about the film, so I thought it was a good way to get a little more leverage out of it.

And secondly, I filled out an application to be a Regional Ambassador for the film and the movement. I don't know what will come of it, but it's something I would really love to be a part of.

If you still don't know what Girl Rising is, check out their website to learn more about the film and the movement to give girls in the developing world more and better access to secondary education.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it
Day Seventeen - Ps and Qs

40 days of giving back, day seventeen: p's and q's.

I'll be honest, I kind of felt like this one was a bit of a copout. The challenge was to remember to be polite to everyone you met -- smiling at a stranger, holding a door open for someone, and generally just acting like a human being.

I guess I felt like it was a copout because it's something I try to do in my general everyday life anyway. I know obviously it's not something I am successful at 100% of the time, but I feel like I come pretty close. And on Day Seventeen, which fell on Monday, I think I did pretty well with that. It's funny to walk down the New York City streets smiling at everyone you pass, because the ones who's eyes aren't glued to their phone screens end up staring straight through you. And if you do happen to make eye contact with someone and you're smiling, more often than not they give you a bit of a funny look while rushing past you [not that anyone was running away from me; it's just a fast-paced city].

But still I tried. I smiled at as many people as I could. I gave up a seat on the subway for an elderly gentleman. I said 'Please' and 'Thank You' to our waitress at lunch [another one I am big on - good manners go a long way]. And I served others before serving myself at our The Wandering Samaritan dinner, although because we're all inclined that way, sometimes others served me before I could serve them.

All in all I wouldn't say that any of this is outside my normal behaviour, but I guess every now and then it's good to have a reminder.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out
Day Sixteen - bake it, make it, take it

40 days of giving back, day sixteen: bake it, make it, take it.

This was the perfect task for me that fell on the wrong day. The challenge was to bake or make something - cake, brownies, etc - and take to someone else for no reason other than to spread some joy and good deeds. As someone who greatly enjoys baking, this one appealed to me on a number of levels, but being out of town for work and running around this crazy city like a chicken with my head cut off was not conducive to following through on this plan.

I have a ton of people I would like to make brownies or cupcakes or something for, but I think when I get back to Memphis I'll take them to the local fire department or police station. I've been thinking of / wanting to do something for them in the last few months, but it kept slipping my mind, so I think this is the perfect time to finally follow through on that.

And then perhaps I will move on to sending some goodies to some of the lovelies in my life. Let me know if you want some!
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh
Day Fifteen - Stand Up, Stand Out

21 March 2014

40 days of giving back, day fifteen: Stand Up, Stand Out.

Today's challenge was one of those that could have gone a lot of ways, and eventually this is what I landed on. Bear with me.

Today we were challenged to be an ambassador for a charity or a cause that we are passionate about. I think that it's been made clear on this blog a number of times the causes - girls' education, women's rights, responsible travel, access to primary education, etc - that I am passionate about, so we don't need to go into those today.

And I've mentioned a lot of the organizations that I love around the world, so today, instead of just highlighting and speaking about one, I thought I would provide a list of my favourites and a "brief" blurb about the work they are doing and why I love them so much. Feel free to click on the links to learn more about the work of each organization and to find out how you can become more involved in the issues they are working on.

Room to Read's vision is simple: World Change Begins With Educated Children. To accomplish that goal, the organization builds libraries and schools in partnership with communities in 10 countries in Asia and Africa. In addition to this, Room to Read provides financial and material support through their Girls' Education program to give more girls access to secondary education in areas where they usually do not have the opportunity to complete school. I've worked with Room to Read, and I've raised money for Room to Read, and they are an organization that I will always love to hear and learn more about.

St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis works tirelessly to find cures for childhood illnesses, and no child is ever turned away from St Jude because of a family's inability to pay for treatment. The daily operating cost for St Jude is nearly $2 million, and almost all of that money comes from individual contributions. It's a wonderful hospital, one where my father worked over 30 years ago, and one that has treated friends of mine, and it is probably the one place I will never say 'no' to donating to.

The Wandering Samaritan is the brand new nonprofit startup that I have been working for for the last 2 months, so I can't miss out on mentioning here. Our goal is to raise money for our Miracle Bank whose funds will be allocated to travelers so they can create random acts of kindness along their journeys. Those medical clinics that need new supplies? Our Samaritans can provide those. That sustainable income source a father - or mother - needs to feed his/her children? Our Samaritans can invest in an animal that will provide just that. We are getting ready to launch our pilot phase, so any interested travelers out there should get in touch with us about being in our first group of Samaritans.

Peace Child India, the NGO in Bangalore that I worked for for 4 years. They teach English to government school children around the city and run a program at a government home for street and working children to teach them English and Maths as well as life skills. Peace Child is always on the hunt for new volunteers, so if you've always wanted to volunteer in India, you should take a look at the work they are doing. And as a bonus: if you decide to intern with them, you get to live on a beautiful sustainable farm in a village outside the city. It's one of my most happy places.

Girl Rising is a film that highlights the importance of educating girls. The film tells the story of 9 extraordinary girls from around the world who have overcome hardships and obstacles to complete their education and who have become advocates and spokeswomen for this important cause. As mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity last week to meet Holly Gordon, the Executive Director and Executive Producer of the film, and to learn more about how it was made and also why it is so important. There are many opportunities to host or attend screenings of the film, and it is also now available to stream or for purchase.

There are plenty of other great organizations around the world, but we'll stick with these for today. And I encourage everyone to learn more about one of these movements or to find your own that you are passionate about and to do whatever you can to help them out. Obviously the most important thing for each of these is the financial support people provide, but never underestimate the power of hard work and in-kind donations. Find out what is needed, and do what you can to make that happen.

Every little bit, no matter how small, helps. Remember that.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local
Day Fourteen - Shhhhh

40 days of giving back, day fourteen: shhhhh.

Thursday's task was to do something anonymously for someone else, but I kind of missed the boat on it because I was traveling. So this is my vow to try my best to do something while I'm here, or else to do something for someone once I am back in Memphis.

I have an idea or two for something I could do for someone while I'm in New York, but I'm going to hold on to it and see how the next few days play out. If for some reason that plan falls through, I have something else in mind for something I can do once I get back to Memphis and can make it happen. Or, if all works out, I could do both. Just imagine.

I know it seems as though I've been giving some of these a pass lately, but I really have not. I'm writing them down, and they're still saved in my emails, and I have every intention of following through on the ones I've not yet been able to accomplish. Things got kind of crazy with all the traveling, but I know that's no excuse, so I plan on holding myself fully accountable for all of these.

So thank you to those of you who have been following along, and I promise I will get to all of these challenges; it just might take me longer than the 40 allotted days. But something is always better than nothing.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter
Day Thirteen - Go Local

19 March 2014

remembering jamaica.

Tomorrow morning a group of students from Baylor will be embarking on the trip of their lives. They will be traveling to Kingston, Jamaica, to spend their Spring Break working for others as countless Baylor students have been doing for nearly 20 years.

[with my boys Joseph and JJ]
I was one of those lucky students way back in the spring of 2000, and it was a trip that changed my life. It was my first introduction to international service, and it was my first introduction to some wonderful people who remain constantly in my thoughts.

[Blair and Carlin with Rasheedi and Alex]
I was also lucky enough to be able to return, traveling back to Jamaica 6 more times between 2000 and 2005. Each trip has its own unique memories, shared with those who traveled with me and those I met along the way, and each will forever occupy a special place in my heart.

[with Junior]
I've been thinking a lot about Jamaica recently, about the children I met, the friends I made, the adventures we had, and the impact the trips had on me. I cannot believe it's been 14 years since my first trip and nearly 9 since my last. I find myself imagining all my little kids all grown up, wondering how they are and what they're doing. Little Kelly, who I remember as a brand new baby born during my first trip, is now 14, and her brothers Bob and Bobby are now in their 20s, which seems unfathomable to me.

[with Paula and JJ]
And I remember Junior, our sweet friend in Ferry who was taken from us much before his time. He had such a gentle soul and was always wanting to do more for his community, and his spirit lives on in the lives of all those he touched during his life, mine included.

[my sweet Bob]
On the Jamaica Trip, it is a tradition that every evening before eating dinner, all the trip participants go around and say what they are grateful for. The list can be as short or as long as they want, and it provides a great way to reflect back on the experiences of the day and share your thoughts with others who are in a similar situation. Our group from my first trip took to gratefuls so much that we decided to meet once a week for lunch when we returned to school to continue those reflections. It gave us an opportunity to see how we had changed during that trip and to see how those changes implemented themselves once we were back in our normal environment. I will forever be grateful for that group and for the bond that we will always share, no matter where we are in life or how long it's been since that first trip.

[Joseph was so excited about this event]
In 2005 I had to return early from the trip to attend a wedding, so I missed out on the final two days of time with my fellow travelers and of reflecting on the trip. I spent most of the flight from Montego Bay to Atlanta writing, and the following is what came of that. Although I wrote this in 2005, it still rings as true today as it did on that steaming July day.

[Carlin with Al George. he wanted so badly to bring him home with us]
Tonight, as I sit on a plane leaving the island of Jamaica behind me after yet another incredible journey to my favorite place in the world, I am reminded, as I always am at this time, of everything in this world that I am grateful for.


[crazy Crystal. she was adorable, but she was a troublemaker!]
I am eternally grateful for my family - for my parents and my brother - who have always taught me that I can do whatever I want and desire to. Without their constant love and support, I would not be the person that I am today, and not a day goes by where I don't realize how incredibly lucky I am to have the three most beautiful people in the world as my family. I am grateful for all that they have taught me, not least of which is to care for my fellow human being. They have taught me the beauty of selflessness and compassion, of losing myself in service to others. I am grateful for all that they have given me over the years, particularly the opportunity to return to Jamaica year after year. I am grateful that they understand how important this trip is to me and that they understand that it is my inspiration for everything. I am grateful that they allow me to follow my heart.


[with Tia. such a sweet little lady, and so good with her younger siblings]
I am grateful for the care that I was given as a child, that I was always picked up when I cried, changed when I was wet, and rocked to sleep when I was tired. I am grateful that I not only had two parents and an older brother but also an entire foundation of family members and friends to look after me while I was growing up. I am grateful that I was surrounded by love, that I was fed and washed and clothed properly, that I never had to beg and scream and plead to bring attention to myself. I am grateful that I always had my own bed and my own toys and my own everything - that I never had to share any of my childish luxuries with fifty other children. I am grateful that I was taught to show and to teach love, not hatred. I am grateful that I was never so thirsty that I felt compelled to drink my own urine, and that I was never given one cookie and told that that was to be my entire dinner. I am grateful that I have always had my own space to retreat to when I felt the need to be alone. I am grateful that I was always treated when I was sick, that I never had a tumor growing unchecked in my cheek. I am grateful that I was never drugged or tied up as a child because of my behavior. And I am so incredibly grateful that I did not have to grow up in a place like Marigold.


[my wonderful little Biscuit-girl. I still wish I could have brought her back with me]
I am grateful for the smile on Abigail's face every time I see her. I can think of no sweeter sight than her smile when she recognizes me. I am grateful for seeing Kevell share his guineps with a group of children because, despite everything he has grown up without, he has still somehow managed to learn to love and share. I am grateful for the complete joy that I see on Biscuit's face when she is dancing to songs along with Barney. I am grateful for Adrian's generosity when he gives up his swing so that others can have a turn. And I am so grateful that these children's spirits have not yet been broken by the system that they are forced to grow up in.


[you better believe he nailed that pinata, too]
I was particularly reminded on this trip of how grateful I am for shelter, for the roof that I have always had over my head. I am grateful that I have never woken up in a puddle the morning after a hard rain or had to worry that a strong wind might blow my house over. I am grateful that, with a little help from a group of eleven outstanding young men, we as a group were able to ensure that those roofs won't leak for a little while longer and those houses will withstand one more storm. I am grateful to know that the children I love so much will be safe.


[this precious little thing just turned 14. FOURTEEN. my mind cannot comprehend that]
I am grateful for my friends in the community of Ferry - for Junior, who throws the best dance parties in the world. I believe Lynsey Stewart put it best last summer when she said, "He reaches into your chest and squeezes your heart and makes it impossible for you not to love him." Whether he's writing songs for friends fighting battles with cancer or dragging his music equipment to the community center so we can have a party, breaking up fights or simply just talking about nothing at all, his constancy and generosity are a lesson to us all in how to live our lives as good people.


[Junior in his favourite element -- DJ-ing for one of our dance parties]
I am grateful for the friendships we have formed and the memories we have made at Ferry over the years. I am grateful for trips to Dolphin Cove and White River Valley and even down the road to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to watch the Jamaica video with the children at Ferry and hearing their shouts of joy as they see themselves on the screen. I am grateful to know that when I look at the stars and moon and think of the children at Ferry, they are looking at those same stars and thinking of me. I am grateful for picture frames made out of Popsicle sticks, for permanent tie-dye on my t-shirts and shoes, for icing on my backpack, for crowns made out of pipe cleaners, for finger-painting, for pinatas, for visors and masks covered in foam stickers, for recorders, and for noodle necklaces and friendship bracelets. And I am grateful for the opportunity to see the children of Ferry so openly embrace the concept of respect.


[this was the day Alex learned to "wink" and kept "winking" at everyone he saw]
I am so grateful for my friends Bob and Bobby and JJ and their compassion and generosity and quiet strength. These three young men have shaped my life more than I will ever be able to express to them, and it is because of them and for them that I continue moving, continue living, continue working, and continue striving. I know that I will love them all my life, just as I know that they will always share and return that love. I am grateful that our relationships have grown so strong that we no longer have to speak to communicate - entire conversations can be held simply by looking into each other's eyes, and no words can express how grateful I am for that feeling. I am grateful that I have been given the amazing opportunity to see the three of them grow and develop into such beautiful people and for the knowledge, deep down, that I helped bring that change about.


[with my boys Bobby and Bob. how I love them]
As the television on the plane shows off the beaches and resorts of Jamaica, I am grateful to know the real Jamaica - the one where children go hungry every night, the one where a child never knows a loving embrace, the one where families of eight share one-bedroom sheet-metal houses, and often one bed as well. I am grateful that when people speak of Jamaica, I do not think of the beautiful scenery and the lush surroundings but instead of the children being found on the streets every day, of Daniel standing in his house with water halfway to his knees, and of Roy - generous, thoughtful Roy - who was willing to brave a hurricane to drive us to Ferry because he knew that was where we wanted to be. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to eat jerk chicken at a hut on the side of the road and to speak with Miss Betty and Rasta Man and the late, great Jabbo about the things that are truly important in life. I am grateful that I know that the real Jamaica is not found in its scenery but in the hearts and souls of its most beautiful and impoverished people.


[Bob with his baby brother Ricardo]
I am always, always grateful to Joli and for all that she has taught - and continues to teach - me. I am grateful to be able to say that I know someone who so truly defines the word 'humane'. Without her, I would never have known how good it feels to completely surrender yourself in the service to others. Without her, I would not know Jamaica, and to think of all that I would be missing breaks my heart. I am grateful for her generosity, for her compassion, for her strength, for her determination, and, above all, for the example she sets every day simply by helping others.


[Joli with Willie, Tia, and Paula]
I am grateful, as always, for the wonderful people with whom I have gotten to share this experience. No matter where we go in life, I know we will forever share the truly unique bond of having spetn some of the most memorable days of our lives together. Although we may enter this trip as strangers, we leave it as eternal friends.


[Elizabeth and Blair with Alex and Rasheedi]
I am grateful for the looks on Alia and Alvisia's faces when they are in John's arms. I am grateful that each of the children in the nursery at Marigold has known the loving touch of Lindsey Pearson. I am grateful for the look on Mr Patterson's face when he showed off his new hat and shoes that Katherine had brought especially for him. I am grateful for being able to witness the mirrored smiles on Ally and little Alex's faces as they dance to a tune playing only for them. I am grateful for seeing the contentment on Tia's face when Blair simply holds her in her arms. I am grateful for Carl and his enthusiastic dancing. I am grateful for seeing Devon's face the first time he learned to say Elizabeth's name. I am grateful for how happy Rachel and Ashley are when they are singing songs and dancing with Lynsey like the children they so often don't get to be. And I am grateful for having had the opportunity to share this trip with so many thoughtful and caring people and for the knowledge that they will forever hold a special place in my heart. "Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin, and they will say, 'What have you done with your life?' And though there are many moments I think I will remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, 'I was one of us.'"

[with Willie]
But as I sit on this plane tonight, speeding toward the world that I live in bt is not necessarily my home, I think I am most grateful for the knowledge in my heart that this will not be the last time I will have to say goodbye to the island and the people of Jamaica. Deep down I know that my time and my work here are not complete, and I hope that they never are. I cannot imagine a year going by in which I did not get to return to the place where my heart truly lies, and gladly, I know that this will not be that year. As JJ said when we left Ferry on that last day, "I'll see you next July." Yes, JJ, you will.


[with my sweet little JJ. one day I will get back there to see him. one day]
Although I've not been able to get back to Jamaica since this was written, I'm still holding out hope that I will get back there one day. Maybe this summer, maybe the next, maybe in 5 years. But I'll be back.
xx

40 days of giving back, day thirteen: go local.

Today's task was to "go local" and support a small business as opposed to a chain. Being a Memphian, I'm a big fan of local businesses as opposed to chains, and there is no end to the choices here in the city. Unfortunately, today was a bit crazy getting ready for my trip to New York tomorrow, so I wasn't able to hit up any of my favourites [unless you count the salon where I get my upper lip threaded, that's pretty local].

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'll be supporting some local businesses over the weekend, and I will be sure to get to Sweet Noshings or Kwik Chek one day next week once I'm back in town.

But just because I wasn't able to fulfill this one today doesn't mean you shouldn't! Go out and support a local business in your town today and everyday.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing
Day Twelve - #nofilter

40 days of giving back, day twelve: #nofilter.

I wouldn't necessarily say I failed at this task, but I also wouldn't say I succeeded, either.

The challenge for yesterday was to throw away preconceived notions of people we meet and treat them as equals, showing them some form of kindness or generosity.

I was traveling back to Memphis from DC, and although I was open to striking up a conversation with someone in the airport or on my flight, it was also early in the morning, when I'm not particularly at my best.

I was polite to everyone I saw in the airport, especially to those at the check-in kiosks and at Qdoba when I stopped by for my breakfast burrito, but I never really got the opportunity to just chat with anyone.

And once I got back to Memphis, I had a lot of emails to catch up on and various things to take care of around the house before my trip to New York tomorrow, so other than the guy at the car wash and the pizza delivery guy, I didn't see anyone other than my parents.

But I say I didn't necessarily fail, because I spoke to all of these people the same way I do to everyone - I greeting them with a cheerful "Hello!" and asked how they were doing and carried on some friendly small talk. We didn't get into anything deep, but I'd still say that's a good day.

So this one was a bit of an in-betweener, but sometimes that happens.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show
Day Eleven - one green thing

40 days of giving back, day eleven: one green thing.

Monday's task was to commit to doing one green thing. I am by no means a great environmentalist, but I do try my best. I take reusable bags to the grocery store and to Target. I turn off appliances and lights when they're not being used. I use as little water as possible when I do the dishes. I try to keep my driving to a minimum [not an easy task in a city like Memphis]. We recycle at home.

But all of these are little things. I know I'm not making some huge difference in the world, but I also know that everyone doing something small contributes to something greater.

While thinking about how I could make my everyday life greener, I kept coming back to one thing: the amount of water I waste in the shower. I've long wanted to cut back and to turn off the tap as I lather, etc, but I've become lazy about it. I was good about it when I first came back to the States for grad school, but I've since let that commitment lapse, and I know it's only because I'm lazy and it sometimes gets inconvenient to do it. Especially in the winter, when it takes a minute for the water to get hot.

So I've decided that that is what I am going to recommit myself to, and I am going to make a concerted effort to use less water when I bathe. But I am also open to other small ways I can make my life greener, if you have any suggestions.

And this is also my plea to those of you out there to try to make your days a little greener as well.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully
Day Ten - Talent Show

10 of 52: meeting holly gordon, executive director and executive producer of girl rising.

If you know me in real life or have been reading this blog with any regularity in the past few years, you'll know that girls' education is a great passion in my life. It's something I became interested in while I lived in India, but my interest and involvement shot to a whole new level when I had the opportunity to complete my international grad school project with Room to Read's Girls' Education program in Nepal.

While I was preparing for my project, my contacts at Room to Read told me about Girl Rising, a film that was going to focus on 10 - later 9 - girls in the developing world who had used education to overcome obstacles and hardships in their lives, girls who showed the true power of education. And one of the girls to be featured was Suma, a rescued kamlari [indentured servant] who had returned to school with the help of Room to Read [she also sang the opening and closing numbers at the Women in the World summit in early 2012. pretty baller].

Armed with this information, I have been following the making and production of Girl Rising for the last 2 years, and although I have yet to see the film, I have it saved on my DVR [it aired on CNN while I was still in India last year]. I want to watch it, but I also know it will make me cry, so I'm saving it for a day when I'm ready for that.

Fast forward to the end of February, when the Clinton School announced its Public Programs lineup for the month of March, and I spotted Holly Gordon's name in there. Holly is the Executive Director and Executive Producer of the film, and I knew I needed to find a way to hear her speak.

Luckily her program was on a Tuesday evening, so I drove over to Little Rock that afternoon and claimed a good spot for her appearance. I got even luckier in that she came and introduced herself to all sitting at our table prior to her speech, so I had the opportunity to mention my project with Room to Read and chat with her a bit.

Her speech and presentation - where she showed Suma's segment from the film - were excellent, and it was so great to hear some of the things she said about the importance of educating girls. She stuck around for a few minutes after to speak with people, and I managed to find out that she will be in New York while I'm there for work this next week. And she invited me to visit their office and meet some more of the staff!

It was so great to get to meet such an awesome and visionary woman, and I'm so excited to get to see her again - and to learn even more about this film - when I visit their office next week.

[if you're interested in her appearance at school, you can watch the full video here. it's worth the watch]

other highlights included: discovering Friday Night Lights reruns on some random Dish channel [thank you, brother, for the heads up]; finished reading Divergent; quick catch-ups with some peeps at the Clinton School when I was in Little Rock; received an awesome hand-written letter from Shonali; John Wood, Founder of Room to Read, retweeted my review of Creating Room to Read; awesome DC weekend that included catching up with friends, drinking our way around the city, discovering a pub that raises money to build schools, flirting with a cute bartender, good food, the Veronica Mars movie, hanging out in a speakeasy, and snowwwww.

It was such a great week, I'm 3 days behind on posting this update.
xx

18 March 2014

40 days of giving back, day ten: talent show.

I was supposed to tell someone about the tools I listed on Day Three [see link below for details], but I kind of flaked on doing that. But I will say that Saturday was a bit of an adventure, which I stated I am always up for, so instead I will recount my day.

Shalini and I slept in and awoke with no real purpose for the day. We knew we were meeting Dylan later in the night for drinks, but we had about 9 hours to fill before then. Our first order of business: food. Preferably brunch with drinks.

While Shalini showered, she told me to look up brunch places in Georgetown, so I got to looking on Yelp and found the names of a few places that sounded interesting. But of course I didn't write down the addresses for any of them, and as soon as we left her building and I lost my internet connection, that information was lost [Shal's phone had died at this point, so we made a pretty solid team].

We decided to wing it, and after a scenic walk along the river, we headed up to M Street to see what was on offer. After walking for about 10 minutes and collecting some options, we decided on Bandolero. It was a beautiful day out, and they had their windows open to the street, so we could sit and watch the people stroll by and sip on our strawberry mimosas - amazing, by the way - while we snacked on yummy Mexican food.

Once we ate, we decided to see what time the Veronica Mars movie was playing. Shalini is a huge fan of the show, and I was up for a movie, so off we went. The next showing was about an hour away, so we decided to grab some dessert and enjoy it by the river. We planned on picking up a cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake, but the line was wayyyyy too long - like out the door and around the corner and snaking up the street too long - so we headed across the street and got Pinkberry instead. We enjoyed a nice little picnic down by the river before heading in for the movie.

After the movie, we decided to go ahead and heat for U Street, figuring we could find a place to grab a drink or two until Dylan and his other friends were ready to meet. The first place we both spotted was a slightly dim placed called The Saloon, which appealed to both of us, so off we set across the street and down the steps.

We grabbed two seats at the bar and soon met our hilarious bartender, who we came to realize over the course of the night was also the owner of the joint. He asked us what kind of drinks we liked and then suggested what he thought we might like to try. Over the course of the night, we had a great time chatting with him and irritating him, and at one point he even gave us a channa-like snack for free when we asked him to suggest something for us to snack on. And the place is chock full of signs that encourage you to strike up a conversation with your neighbour while you enjoy a beverage or some snacks, which we did with people who strolled in and out around us.

But perhaps the greatest part about The Saloon is that it's not just a pub you pop into for a drink but a pub that's trying to do some good in the world. The bartender/owner I mentioned, Kamal, has created The Kamal Foundation to build schools and clinics in the developing world. And 75% of those costs are covered by The Saloon, from food and alcohol sales as well as by donations made by patrons. He has information sheets on hand as well as an album with pictures from their projects. And in reading one article, I learned that Kamal shuts down the bar for a period each year, usually in the late summer or early fall, to go and help with the construction himself.

And yet our day still wasn't over after The Saloon. Dylan met us there, and then the three of us walked over to meet his friends at the Gibson, a speakeasy around the corner that specializes in 1920s era cocktails, where we wiled away a few more hours.

So all in all, our Saturday consisted of: brunch overlooking the street complete with strawberry mimosas; Pinkberry in lieu of cupcakes; the Veronica Mars movie; discovering a sort-of not-for-profit pub; a speakeasy; and a 2.45am Metro ride home.

It might not have been bungee jumping or skydiving, but it was still one hell of an adventure.
xx

Previous Tasks:
Day One - Start a Journal
Day Two - Create a Generosity Jar
Day Three - Tool Up
Day Four - Connect
Day Five - An Attitude of Gratitude
Day Six - Reach
Day Seven - Redial
Day Eight - o.t.t.
Day Nine - Listen, carefully