Archive for the ‘giving back’ Category

Sweet Charity

I often post about the fashions, recipes, books, and locations that I love, but today I’d like to share with you some of the causes that I love. 
It’s very important to me to recognize how fortunate I am, and that giving even just a small amount of money or time adds up to make a difference.
Here are some causes that I love:
Food on Foot is a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless and hungry in Los Angeles. They not only provide nutritious meals, they offer clothing, blankets, and employment assistance. They are a unique organization in that they also inspire/require hard work, self-reflection, and random acts of kindness. They’re not about just giving food to those without it; they instead look to help those who are struggling to get on their feet and become productive members of society. I’ve been a member since August of 2011, and I wrote about my first experience with them here, back when this blog went by a different name. 
It really is an inspiring and unique organization.

I was introduced to Xela Aid by one of my mentors in grad school (now my boss!). Xela Aid works with a village in Guatemala, to help the people of the village break through the cycle of poverty by providing health care and education opportunities, among other things. I have gone on volunteer trips twice, and plan to go again next summer. It truly is a life changing experience, and you can read a little bit about my experience here. 
Kiva works on the concept of a microfinance– or lending to low-income people or those without access to banking.  When you give money to Kiva, you’re technically an investor, since those who receive the loans pay them back. You could keep the returned cash, or (preferably) reinvest it in another cause. You get updates about the person you are investing in, and you can see how your loan, no matter how small, helps him or her to climb out of poverty and become financially independent. Many of the loans go to impoverished nations and to small businesses; for example, I just reinvested my balance to a Georgian woman who is starting a bakery; before that a woman in Ghana who makes Kenkey borrowed money for dough, and before that, I lent to a Ugandan woman who was opening a pub. It is so easy to give to, and I really love the idea of supporting women in their business ventures around the world.
If you’re interested, here’s an invite code– they say you and I will both get an extra $25 to invest!
Now, this cause isn’t about helping the less fortunate; in fact, most of their listeners are fairly comfortable Los Angelinos. KCRW is one of our NPR affiliates, and I really love NPR. It’s important to me that we have quality journalism, and I especially love what KCRW does for the community. Their music programming is excellent–as in not just good, but seriously influential and eclectic, and just wonderful. Even if you’re not in the Los Angeles area, you can listen online. I promise that it makes for great office music. 
Also, the local reporting on KCRW is unparalleled. And the book clubs, film screenings, art walks, and concerts that they produce are so cool that I almost feel unworthy. That station is where I turn to for all things news and culture, and it’s listener supported. 
I love it so much that I accidentally made two ongoing donations during a pledge drive!
I’d love to hear about the organizations that you are involved with, or how you like to give back, in your community or internationally!

A Dose of Warm Fuzzies for a Cold Day…

I know it’s December now, BUT, this is a good reminder as the warm fuzzies that we felt around Thanksgiving give way to stress and frustration in those few weeks before Christmas.

 I believe in counting my blessings every chance I get, so I decided to make the entire month of November a month of Thanksgiving. If December gets to be a whole month of Christmas, then why can’t Thanksgiving stake its claim on an entire month?

So on Facebook, each day for the month I posted something that I am thankful for. Here’s the list, directly quoted from Facebook, starting with November 1st and moving down to the 30th:

1. I know I did this last year, and so I am sorry for the repeats, but in the month of November I like to post everyday one thing that I am thankful for. (The posting on Facebook helps keep me accountable, and plus, I like spreading positive energy.) So today, I am thankful for my flexible work schedule that lets me sleep in a couple of days a week. 🙂

2. Today I am thankful for the cozy home I live in. Every day when I pull into the driveway, I get warm fuzzies.

3. Today I am thankful for the people who work all of those unsexy jobs that make sure that we have power, running water, trash pickup, gas, etc.

4. Today I am thankful that I get to have dinner with my awesome family every Sunday night. ♥

5. Today I am thankful that my “hard day” of the week consists of 12 hours of talking about writing, teaching writing, and Alice in Wonderland. I am blessed to have a job that I truly love.

6. Today I am thankful for those brave women of the suffrage movement, and today I am proud to exercise my right that they fought so hard for.

7. Today I am thankful for Facebook’s “hide” feature– it is really preserving my sanity today. While I welcome political discourse and love that I see a variety of opinions expressed on FB, I have no time for hurtful comments and logical fallacies. Sorry.

8. Today I am thankful for my international students. Not only does their hard work inspire me, but their questions and perspectives challenge me to reconsider, well, just about everything.

9. Today I am thankful that I was raised by such a strong, independent woman. Love you, Michelle Murphree!

10. Today I am thankful that I get to drive the car I always wanted, a black Mini Cooper. She may not always get along with my wallet, but I love love love that car.

11. Today I am thankful for all of the brave men and women, past and present, who have served our country. Thank you, vets, for keeping us safe!

12. Today I am thankful for my good health, and to show my body gratitude, I’m going to treat it to some yoga. 🙂

13. Today I am thankful that I can watch my favorite shows whenever I want on DVR.

14. Tonight I am very thankful to have a belly full of nutritious food. I know that I am often guilty of taking that for granted.

15. Today I am thankful to have a dishwasher. Seriously, how I lived in an apartment so long without one is beyond me.

16. Today I am thankful for hardships that I have endured that make me emphatic to others.

17. Today I am thankful for lazy, rainy Saturday afternoons spent with college football, sweat pants, and my man.

18. Today I am thankful for my loving, hilarious, inspiring grandpa.

19. Today I am thankful for the quality education I received, and thankful that many more will since we passed prop 30.

20. Today I am thankful to have such an awesome brother who I can always count on to make me laugh and teach me something new.

21. Today I am thankful that Cliff insists on having a maid service come a couple times a month to clean. It’s okay to feel a little spoiled now and then.

22. Today I am thankful that I get to spend this holiday with the people that I love all under one roof! I truly am so blessed! I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! ♥

23. Today I am thankful for my second family, the Fornwalts. We make a pretty fun group!

24. tonight I am thankful for heartfelt toasts and opportunities to dress your best! Cheers to Harry and Claudia!

25. Tonight I am thankful that the Zombie Apocalypse has not yet happened.

26. Today I am thankful for my co- Writing Center Supervisor, Beth Saur. I think we make a pretty awesome team.

27. Today I am thankful for a well stocked medicine cabinet and a pharmacy down the street. Suck it, flu!

28. Today I am thankful for news sources like PBS, NPR, BBC World News, and The New York Times that report the important stories in a credible manner.

29. As this month winds down, I am thankful for all of YOU, Facebook friends. Thank you for being a friend… (I’ve traveled down the road and back again; your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant…)

30. And last, but certainly not least, I am thankful to have the best boyfriend in the world, Cliff I am so blessed to be in love with my best friend. Thanks everyone, for putting up with my month of thanksgiving! Love you all!


As you can see, I have A LOT to be thankful for! 

My trip to Guatemala, or, Suck it, Anthony Bourdain*

It’s been a week since I returned home from Guatemala, and it feels about right to take a week to absorb, process, and reflect on the entire experience.

 Spoiler alert: It was awesome and life-changing and challenging and inspiring.

 I’ve been on this trip before, in 2008, so one would assume that a second time around the same place with some of the same people wouldn’t be as deserving of so many superlatives. I traveled to Guatemala with an organization called Xela Aid, an organization founded 20 years ago when volunteers set up medical clinics in the fields of San Martin, a village in the Guatemalan highlands. During that time, Guatemala was engaged in what is now called the “Internal Armed Conflict,” and people already living in impoverished areas were facing a bloody civil war. Today, that violence has ended, and Xela Aid has constructed a health clinic and study center in San Martin Chiquito.
 

  Volunteers with Xela Aid travel to San Martin Chiquito to help in various ways; some trips are medical aid trips, and ours was education-centered. The village has four education centers: La Guardaria, which is like a preschool/ daycare, Primeria, which is like an elementary school, Basico, which is sort of like junior high, and the study center, located inside the clinic, which is for Primeria kids to engage in extra-curricular activities, receive help in their studies, and to encourage their Spanish and Mam fluency.

An important detail to know about Guatemala is that while Spanish is the official language, there are 21 different Mayan languages spoken throughout the nation; in San Martin, the Mayan language is Mam. In order to earn an education and conduct business throughout Guatemala, it is important to know Spanish. However, by emphasizing Spanish-only education, you risk a language dying out within generations. Thus, the study center and Basico have lessons in both Spanish and Mam, which I think is really, really awesome.

  Each morning for the week I (along with two Sarahs, Amber, and Coraline) worked with the youngest kids at La Guardaria. Let me just say, teaching preschoolers is hard work. Teaching preschoolers when you don’t speak the same language as them is ridiculously challenging. I have been working on my Spanish little by little, and had a Spanish tutor there, but nothing describes futility like when you’re trying to figure out why one little girl is crying (asking “Que pasa?” works, but it doesn’t help when you can’t understand the answer) or trying to keep two little boys from running around and pushing the other kids (“Sea sympatico!” isn’t as articulate as I needed it to be).
 Some things are universal, though. Namely, sidewalk chalk and bubbles!
 

Also, birthday cake.

 
 That picture never fails to make me grin.

 In the afternoons some of us helped Terry give his presentation on first aid to the Basico kids. Terry is an awesome ER nurse in Long Beach, and don’t believe him when he says his Spanish is awful. He put together first aid kits for the classes, and gave a presentation on basic first aid. If my Spanish didn’t quite work when trying to communicate at preschool-level vocabulary, you can bet that I wasn’t as useful as I’d like to be when teaching young teenagers how to tie a sling. Somehow it worked though, or at least I hope. They might end up treating cuts and burns with a sling, but at least those kids know how to tie them! The timing worked out well, since San Martin had an earthquake drill at the Primeria and some sort of municipal center that week. They may not have been as over-organized as the drills like the Great California Shake Out we have here, but I was impressed with their potato sack/ broom handle stretchers. Hey, when it comes to saving lives, whatever works, right? Their resourcefulness is one of my favorite traits about the people in Guatemala.

On one of the evenings, our group was lucky to have a local speaker come and give a lecture about the history of Guatemala and the Mayan people. I’d known already that it was pretty awful, but I learned even more about what a dark history they have had, and even typing about it makes me want to cry. So instead, if you’re interested (and prepared to become very angry) I suggest reading Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala.

A fter learning about the plight of Mayan people, I think we all felt especially honored to hike with the kids from Basico to Laguna Chicabal, which is a sacred lake in the crater of a volcano. In fact, it is the center of the Mam-Mayan Cosmovision, which if you ask me, is seriously legit. Some of the kids were so excited to take us there, even offering a hand when the trail got steep or slippery. Walking the final stretch to the lake hand in hand with Katya is one of those memories that I know will forever mean to me more than I can describe. Her patience, friendliness, and generosity were so inspiring to me, and it was just so amazing to get to experience this lake that has so much meaning.
 This is us as we got to the lake (note that the hike wasn’t exactly an easy one):

That’s a cool picture of some kids sitting on a tree that grows over the lake. It was foggy that day, which added a nice mystique to a sacred lake. 🙂

 On Saturday, the kids from the study center met us at the zoo, and we had a picnic and played games. I looked at animals with a girl named Juana, who read all the signs to me, since she could tell my Spanish wasn’t so great and assumed I couldn’t read the signs either. 🙂 The sad part about that is that it might also be indicative of the low levels of adult literacy that the kids are accustomed to…

 But here is Juana, on a slide:

Hehe!

We spent our last few days in Guatemala at Lake Atitlan, which really is a beautiful, beautiful place.

 
That’s Terry, and yes, those are bags of coffee on his head.

 I’ve left out so many of the fun details and stories that come to mind when I think of that trip. I realize, though, that I run the risk of too many “You had to be there” moments, and yeah, you really had to be there. So you should go some time. But really, I understand that I was incredibly lucky to get to have this experience, and because of it, the one thing that I wish for people who know me is that some of you learn more about the history of the Guatemala and its wonderful people, or that you find a way to help out other people who don’t share the same fortune as you do. Or maybe just show some compassion, in general, to anyone. Compassion and understanding lead to some of the most beautiful moments in life.

 *To be clear, I actually really admire Anthony Bourdain. It’s just that this experience was legit and made me feel cool like that.

My trip to Guatemala, or, Suck it, Anthony Bourdain*

It’s been a week since I returned home from Guatemala, and it feels about right to take a week to absorb, process, and reflect on the entire experience.

 Spoiler alert: It was awesome and life-changing and challenging and inspiring.

 I’ve been on this trip before, in 2008, so one would assume that a second time around the same place with some of the same people wouldn’t be as deserving of so many superlatives. I traveled to Guatemala with an organization called Xela Aid, an organization founded 20 years ago when volunteers set up medical clinics in the fields of San Martin, a village in the Guatemalan highlands. During that time, Guatemala was engaged in what is now called the “Internal Armed Conflict,” and people already living in impoverished areas were facing a bloody civil war. Today, that violence has ended, and Xela Aid has constructed a health clinic and study center in San Martin Chiquito.
 

  Volunteers with Xela Aid travel to San Martin Chiquito to help in various ways; some trips are medical aid trips, and ours was education-centered. The village has four education centers: La Guardaria, which is like a preschool/ daycare, Primeria, which is like an elementary school, Basico, which is sort of like junior high, and the study center, located inside the clinic, which is for Primeria kids to engage in extra-curricular activities, receive help in their studies, and to encourage their Spanish and Mam fluency.

An important detail to know about Guatemala is that while Spanish is the official language, there are 21 different Mayan languages spoken throughout the nation; in San Martin, the Mayan language is Mam. In order to earn an education and conduct business throughout Guatemala, it is important to know Spanish. However, by emphasizing Spanish-only education, you risk a language dying out within generations. Thus, the study center and Basico have lessons in both Spanish and Mam, which I think is really, really awesome.

  Each morning for the week I (along with two Sarahs, Amber, and Coraline) worked with the youngest kids at La Guardaria. Let me just say, teaching preschoolers is hard work. Teaching preschoolers when you don’t speak the same language as them is ridiculously challenging. I have been working on my Spanish little by little, and had a Spanish tutor there, but nothing describes futility like when you’re trying to figure out why one little girl is crying (asking “Que pasa?” works, but it doesn’t help when you can’t understand the answer) or trying to keep two little boys from running around and pushing the other kids (“Sea sympatico!” isn’t as articulate as I needed it to be).
 Some things are universal, though. Namely, sidewalk chalk and bubbles!
 

Also, birthday cake.

 
 That picture never fails to make me grin.

 In the afternoons some of us helped Terry give his presentation on first aid to the Basico kids. Terry is an awesome ER nurse in Long Beach, and don’t believe him when he says his Spanish is awful. He put together first aid kits for the classes, and gave a presentation on basic first aid. If my Spanish didn’t quite work when trying to communicate at preschool-level vocabulary, you can bet that I wasn’t as useful as I’d like to be when teaching young teenagers how to tie a sling. Somehow it worked though, or at least I hope. They might end up treating cuts and burns with a sling, but at least those kids know how to tie them! The timing worked out well, since San Martin had an earthquake drill at the Primeria and some sort of municipal center that week. They may not have been as over-organized as the drills like the Great California Shake Out we have here, but I was impressed with their potato sack/ broom handle stretchers. Hey, when it comes to saving lives, whatever works, right? Their resourcefulness is one of my favorite traits about the people in Guatemala.

On one of the evenings, our group was lucky to have a local speaker come and give a lecture about the history of Guatemala and the Mayan people. I’d known already that it was pretty awful, but I learned even more about what a dark history they have had, and even typing about it makes me want to cry. So instead, if you’re interested (and prepared to become very angry) I suggest reading Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala.

A fter learning about the plight of Mayan people, I think we all felt especially honored to hike with the kids from Basico to Laguna Chicabal, which is a sacred lake in the crater of a volcano. In fact, it is the center of the Mam-Mayan Cosmovision, which if you ask me, is seriously legit. Some of the kids were so excited to take us there, even offering a hand when the trail got steep or slippery. Walking the final stretch to the lake hand in hand with Katya is one of those memories that I know will forever mean to me more than I can describe. Her patience, friendliness, and generosity were so inspiring to me, and it was just so amazing to get to experience this lake that has so much meaning.
 This is us as we got to the lake (note that the hike wasn’t exactly an easy one):

That’s a cool picture of some kids sitting on a tree that grows over the lake. It was foggy that day, which added a nice mystique to a sacred lake. 🙂

 On Saturday, the kids from the study center met us at the zoo, and we had a picnic and played games. I looked at animals with a girl named Juana, who read all the signs to me, since she could tell my Spanish wasn’t so great and assumed I couldn’t read the signs either. 🙂 The sad part about that is that it might also be indicative of the low levels of adult literacy that the kids are accustomed to…

 But here is Juana, on a slide:

Hehe!

We spent our last few days in Guatemala at Lake Atitlan, which really is a beautiful, beautiful place.

 
That’s Terry, and yes, those are bags of coffee on his head.

 I’ve left out so many of the fun details and stories that come to mind when I think of that trip. I realize, though, that I run the risk of too many “You had to be there” moments, and yeah, you really had to be there. So you should go some time. But really, I understand that I was incredibly lucky to get to have this experience, and because of it, the one thing that I wish for people who know me is that some of you learn more about the history of the Guatemala and its wonderful people, or that you find a way to help out other people who don’t share the same fortune as you do. Or maybe just show some compassion, in general, to anyone. Compassion and understanding lead to some of the most beautiful moments in life.

 *To be clear, I actually really admire Anthony Bourdain. It’s just that this experience was legit and made me feel cool like that.