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So Much WIN! Our Envision Adventure Just Got Even Better!

I received some most excellent news yesterday that’s had me bouncing around doing the happy dance ever since. Thanks to you awesome people using my discount code for Envision tickets and our street teaming efforts posting & handing out flyers/stickers, talking about the festival on social media, and promoting the event, I’ve earned TWO tickets for James and I to go to Envision. I never expected that joining the street team would pay off this much — I was cautiously hoping for at least one ticket, but we bought super early bird tickets just in case (which took less than a day to sell on Facebook). So now we have more money towards our trip (thank you to the lovely ladies who bought our tickets!) and maybe we can even manage a quick visit to the beautiful Corn Islands in Nicaragua

And I thought I couldn’t get any more excited for this trip. The yoga and movement workshops are starting to be announced as well as speakers for the event, and  I was thrilled to find out that one of my personal heroes, Julia Butterfly, will be speaking there, so I may even have the chance to hug my favorite tree hugger/sitter! Oh my glob, I can hardly contain myself! I can’t even watch this preview video without jumping up and down and squealing like a schoolgirl:

There’s still time to join us at Envision! Tickets are available (don’t forget to use my discount code!) and flight prices are still decent! The lineup is pretty amazing, and you can’t beat the location for a tropical escape in the winter…

And it gets even better… Envision is just the beginning of our adventure! We are getting together with the friends we are traveling with tonight to reserve our first few nights of hostels and get some plans squared away. This is becoming REAL. A month from today, we will be getting ready to fly out of San Francisco and start the longest international adventure I’ve ever been on (James lived in Nicaragua as a kid, so he’s got me beat there. Two weeks in Peru wasn’t enough for me, and I doubt a month in Costa Rica and Nicaragua will be enough either).

Please comment if you’ve been to Costa Rica or Nicaragua and have places to recommend that we see. We’re especially interested in volunteer opportunities, preferably in Nicaragua and having to do with animals, wildlife, conservation, or anything helping the locals become more sustainable – that we could help out with for a short time during our visit. We appreciate any travel tips or not-to-miss sights we can get, especially since most of our trip will be unplanned and open-ended so we can ask around and be open to whatever we find on the journey.

Only one more month to go… Stay tuned for my last-minute fundraising posts soon as we scramble to save all the pennies we can! And of course, I’ll be posting travel stories and photos here during and after the trip so you can all join us vicariously. Let the countdown begin!

Haiti’s Got a Piece of My Heart

I can’t read or see anything about Haiti, and especially about the earthquake that shook the poorest country in the Western hemisphere on January 12, 2010, without tearing up and feeling a heavy tug in my heart. But I’ve never even set foot there, I’ve never witnessed the earthquake’s destruction in person, and I certainly don’t speak a word of Creole.

To understand why Haiti pulls at my heartstrings so much, all I really have to say is that I almost lost my only sister Rachel to that earthquake. But that’s only a tiny part of the story. The real story is not so much about my sister narrowly escaping the earthquake’s destruction that took the life of her friend Molly Hightower, a hospital volunteer halfway through a year-long stay there, who she was visiting on her winter break. The real story is how my little sister became my hero, by taking a tragic and traumatic experience and the loss of a dear friend and turning it into a personal mission to do as much good as she can for Haitian people that touched her heart and literally rescued her from the rubble.

My sister, Rachel, in Haiti with an abandoned baby.

To say the least, Haiti was a mess before the earthquake reduced much of its capital city, Port-au-Prince, to rubble. Upheaval and political turmoil have long been a big part of Haiti’s struggle, and the majority of the population there lives in poverty. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and was not prepared at all for such a disaster. The earthquake crumbled what little infrastructure they had and threw the country into a state of chaos and desperation that they will be struggling to overcome for some time. Sadly, very little of the aid money poured out by the world shortly after the earthquake actually went to helping the Haitian people. The earthquake destroyed countless homes, shattered families, and reduced much of the city and surrounding area to rubble. I can’t even imagine the devastation my sister must have witnessed as she was taken from the 7-story building she was in that pancaked to the hospital and then to the US embassy in a pickup by a group of Haitian men who brought her to safety before even checking on their own families.

When Rachel first visited in 2010, she was in a Physical Therapy program at University of Puget Sound. The earthquake shook her foundation and made her question whether she could even go back to school. But she did, and in May 2012 she graduated with her doctorate degree, and has returned to Haiti every year since the earthquake to help at the hospital and orphanage where Molly worked, cuddling orphaned babies, bringing toys to the children (and sponsoring one herself), and training PTs in Haiti.

Not only has she returned to Haiti to help the organization her friend worked for to continue Molly’s legacy, she has also given speeches and interviews about her experience, raised awareness and funds to help the earthquake relief effort, and redirected her entire life to focus on helping Haiti. She also founded and chairs the NPH USA Northwest Associate Board to raise funds and awareness for the organization Molly worked for in Haiti. Additionally, Rachel founded a scholarship at her alma mater in Molly’s honor to provide a college education to a Haitian student who grew up at NPH. The student who was awarded the first scholarship to University of Portland, Jean Francois, grew up at the NPH orphanage and is now working on his degree. He has become a member of our family and spent the holidays with us last year, where he got to experience skiing for the first time.

Through her work on the NW Associate Board of NPH, she has organized fundraisers, including one in Molly’s honor called Music for Molly, shortly after the earthquake. NPH runs a number of homes and hospitals in poor countries throughout Central and South America, and Rachel’s board has planned and organized several events in the Northwest benefitting NPH. I’ve had the privilege of working with her to create flyers, logos, and event promotion materials for several of them, and though these are but small contributions to the cause, it is nice to be able to use my design skills for such a noble purpose. Last fall, Rachel put together a stroke manual in Creole to help families and caretakers care for stroke patients and aid their recovery. It was the first thing I have ever designed in Creole, so that was a challenge, but I hope that our simple booklet helps Haitian stroke patients and their families. On her most recent visit, which is just now wrapping up, she led a tour group of NPH supporters, including my parents, around the facilities at NPH. Now that my parents have been to Haiti, I guess next it’s my turn!

Music for Molly Poster

Haiti will never be the same, but with the dedication and hard work of people like Rachel and organizations like NPH, there is hope. Aid organizations may have long forgotten about Haiti and squandered the money meant for rebuilding, but the hearts and souls of the Haitian people are obviously strong and resilient. And though I haven’t been there yet, Haiti will always have a piece of my heart.

Ever since the earthquake I have tried to think of a way I could help Haiti. I have no medical training like my sister, and I’m not sure if I could even handle seeing the pain and desolation caused by the earthquake, poverty, and turmoil I’d see there. But if I have even a tiny fraction of the strength and compassion my sister has, I am sure I could help somehow. Recently I have begun dreaming up an idea, a way to use my passions and talents to help make life a little easier for the people of Haiti. It may not seem like much — I have no cure for cholera, nor do I know how to build houses or even speak the language — but sometime I would like to bring the joy of flow arts to Haiti. There isn’t much in this world that makes me happier than hooping, and play is a universal language — so someday I hope to raise enough money to build and take hoops, poi, staves, and other flow props to the orphans of Haiti and teach them how to spin. I am not a teacher, or even that great of a spinner, so teaching flow arts would be something I’d have to practice and learn. It would surely take some time to gather up the funding and supplies to build hundreds of props, round up donated props from the spinning community, and maybe even recruit some spinners to join me in this mission (I know James is on board at least!). But, inspired by organizations like Spark Circus and Performers Without Borders, who bring the joy and fun of flow arts to disadvantaged communities around the world, and of course with the inspiration and help of my amazing sister, I’m sure that we can make it happen. I look forward to seeing a sea of smiles and colorful spinning toys arising out of the rubble of Haiti, and I will surely keep you all posted as I start planning to make this journey happen.

In the meantime, I urge anyone touched by this story to visit Rachel’s blog and learn more about Haiti and her work there. If you are moved and able to help, you can donate here.


Favorite Photos and Memories from 2013

As I look back on a year full of growth, adventure, friendship, and love, I am grateful for every moment and every person that made my year so special. Below are some of my favorite photos and memories from the past year. I took way too many photos (especially since I got a DSLR early in the year) and it was hard to narrow it down to my favorites, but here’s 150 or so of the past year’s highlights (or at least the ones I captured on camera). 2013, thanks for the memories. And happy new year, everyone!

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