goodbye 2015

it's been a while since i've written.

i attribute my inspiration to Jason Murray and some recent filming i've been doing for Starbucks.  Jason began his travels (coffee break) this past Thursday with a one way ticket to Mexico City.   witnessing his intention coming true and all the work that comes with that has been so inspiring.  on the work side, i've been asked by some folks in Partner Resources to be apart of a project for Partner Appreciation Week that will roll out to N. America and Canada.  

so, where do i start?  i can tell you that 2015 has been one of the most difficult years i have ever encountered.  in a word, it sucked.  

i'm ready to put it in the past and with time be grateful for what i still haven't gleaned from it yet.  i can only trust that things will get better, they always do.  this last year my relationship ended with the person i love dearly and wanted to share the rest of my ride on the planet with.  i can tell you the up side to this is that we truly respect and love one another.  for that i am grateful.  i have never experienced that with the ending of a relationship.  however, the complexity that comes with that is HARD.  keeping a relationship with the kids and with her isn't always easy but... i can't imagine not.  i believe living thru this will make me a better person.  so, there's that.  

my home was falling apart this past year.  i had a roof leak that caused back mold and a tree fell on my house.  if you know anything about black mold you know that it's dangerous and can make you ill.  well, that happened.  i now have a new roof and will begin remodeling my home in January.  i call it the lemonade project.  this is compounded with the relationship issue since we had spoken of shacking up, blowing out my house and being a family.  now, i'm remodeling and without that family i was so hoping to be apart of.  it's bittersweet, hence the name The Lemonade Project.  

then, my dog... my very best friend in the entire world was diagnosed with cancer.  within days he had 3 large tumors and 3 small growths removed.  he looked like frankenstein when we picked him up.  after 6 weeks of healing i decided to take him to meet the ocean.  just me and my dog, in the car on an adventure.  it was pure magic.  everything on that trip was all about Chuy.  it shifted me and my life.  it reminded me that we (me) have a tendency to over complicate things.  to make them difficult and laborious.  what really is important is simple, genuine and real.  lesson here... get out of your own way and stop making things so hard.  go for a walk, eat something good, run around and play, and if your having a bad day... shake it off.  you can learn a lot from a dog, a kid and an older person - you just need to know how to listen.

I was reminded of my time in Africa.  the people that really understand happiness and being grateful seemed to me, to be the people who had nothing - or so it seemed.  no electricity, no water, only the clothes on their backs, nearly no food but they had relationship and community.  they knew what joy really felt like.  i remember sitting on that hillside in Rwanda and telling myself "never forget this!"  so, now when things are going bad, as this past year has been, i put it in perspective.  things may have not gone they way i wanted or hoped but i have so much to be grateful for.  it is me who needs to change my focus and i have learned to choose to be happy.  

on the other hand my concept of The DreamMaker Project seems to be gaining interest.  being asked to contribute the digital storytelling piece of Partner Appreciation Week was a highlight for me this year.  one of the people i'm working with started  PAW last year.  the idea is to celebrate our partners (employees at Starbucks) for a week, once a quarter and increase engagement.  it gained so much positive attention regional that they are rolling it out nationally.  this coupled with what i had been working on for the last 3 years seemed to be cut from the same cloth.  i was approached and asked to participate but we couldn't use the brand The DreamMaker Project.  that didn't bother me, i knew that day was going to come.  besides, The DreamMaker Project is mine, it is something i can fall back on if this thing with Starbucks doesn't happen.  so, i suggested we name the new project The Dream Lens.  i mean, shit - i just named something for Starbucks!  i mean ...holy shit!  They rented camera equipment for me and i am currently making 3 videos for them to roll out internally to North America and Canada in February.  there were going to be 4 but the one about me, i decided to pull.  see, here's where it gets complicated.  i had to sign over my rights for the content i create for The Dream Lens.  yep, it's all owned by Starbucks, which i understand.  however, my story - my content of my coffee break would become property of Starbucks and that... that i couldn't do.  not until i have secured a new job with The Dream Lens full time will i consider such a thing.  even then, i would need to negotiate licensing and derivative works.  sorry Starbucks, but i climbed that mountain and there is no way you can own that content. 

the other thing that happened is this fear inside me surfaced.  what keeps Starbucks from taking The Dream Lens (which is the essence of The DreamMaker Project) out from under me and not including me?  some of my friends and family have voiced their concern.  we've all heard the stories of the MAN taking from the little guy.  i decided to start telling people what i was afraid of.  i shared my feelings with my boss and the regional partner resources person  i'm working with.  i told them, "my fear is that Starbucks will take this idea and give it to someone or a team and not me, that they'll say 'thanks' and give me a job doing social media in a cubical down the hall."  as i was having this conversation, in the lobby of Mikes Camera, i realized something.  if i let fear make a decision for me, it's the wrong decision.  my entire life i have leaned in to fear.  in fact, my general rule of thumb is if it scares me i need to move toward it.  that rule has offered me the most genuine and fulfilling life.  i have to trust that Starbucks won't do the wrong thing.  i have been putting this content out to the world for three and a half years.  i mean seriously, if Starbucks were to dick me over on a concept regarding partner appreciation - that would be a story they wouldn't want to tell.  bigger than that, is this entire concept was built on believing the best in people and this company.  Starbucks has always redefined what a corporation is and can be, i trust that will continue to be true moving forward.   it goes back to choosing to be happy in my life and sitting on that hillside in Rwanda.  

 

so, as i approach a milestone of a birthday, i raise a glass of San Pellegrino and toast goodbye to past and hello to what will be.  the entire time... being grateful for the moment.

Bridge Building

When I lived in Vail they were rebuilding the section of I-70 that runs through Glenwood Canyon. It was a big project and one of the main objectives was not to harm too much of the beautiful canyon as they worked. A large machine from France was used. It attached to the end section of the highway and literally built the road in front of itself. That is how I feel about my life most times.

The DreamMaker Project has gained some positive attention with Starbucks. I’m currently talking with the person who runs their Leadership Conferences about my project, and ideas. I’ve work so hard on this and it is nothing more than a labor of love. Seriously… love… my overall goal would be to turn The DreamMaker Project into an Advocacy Program for the partners of Starbucks (the employees). What I want to do is invoke conversation and awareness around partner’s goals and ‘why’ they are working at Starbucks. If this project could actually help people become aware of their goals and achieve them, it would breed personal success as well as business success. The synergy between ‘why’ you show up for work every day would change and additional value, that isn’t always measured in a paycheck, would result. I mean, when was the last time your boss asked you “what’s one of your dreams?” Let alone, how they might be able to help you achieve that? We all know that “you” are ultimately responsible for ‘doing’ it. However, offering a space for you to become aware of that “dream” - is a step in the process, one that is needed in the world these days.

Meanwhile, The DreamMaker Project would connect partners to one another through a medium of communication that is much more effective and meaningful with this generation, … digital storytelling. Through the method of video vignettes we will showcase inspiration, benefits allotted to partners, and build relatedness that matters and moves people. The project contains so much potential to grow and become so much more. Eventually, I would love to see it used to showcase the dreams of the farmers, their families and their communities. This relatedness would bring a cohesion that is missing right now and build an understanding and respect between the farmers and the partners. Somehow, I’d like to connect Bridges To Prosperity with Starbucks. Many of the farmers around the world, live in villages B2P has had the opportunity to work within. It is honorable to build schools, hospitals and water wells in these countries, but if people can’t access them due to poor infrastructure, then those things become meaningless. These footbridges B2P build, personally effective the lives of these farmers. It means being able to get a better price for their crop because they can get to the market during those times in areas they haven’t been able to access.

I want to change the way people think about work. 
I want to invite people to challenge themselves to be better. 
I want to challenge Starbucks to engage with it’s partners more genuinely, by asking “what’s one of your dreams and how is working for Starbucks helping you get closer to achieving that?” 
To engage with their lives in a way that brings pride and significant value to themselves and those around them. Starbucks has always had a wonderful value of community and giving back, which is admirable. However, some of the ‘people’ in need of community and help, work right in our stores everyday. We could change the meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility on so many levels. We could genuinely breed people who know the value of personal success. Ultimately ~ isn’t that a form of Leadership?

It’s a simple idea. 
It’s just changing our awareness and perspective. 
We could literally change the world.

Now, all I have to do is arrange all of this, into a package that Starbucks wants to pull into isn’t brand. I have 11 years of working side by side with some of the most wonderful people I have ever encountered. They aren’t necessarily my friends yet I spend 40 hours a week with them and have learned so much from all of them … crazy, huh? I have learned so much about human behavior, especially my own. I know something is going to come of all of this, it already has. I’m clearing my head to make space for organizing what this project really looks like all mapped out. It’s a huge, yet a simple idea. It will be challenging to keep it simple, clean and to the point. I keep telling myself “less is more”.

So wish me luck. 
I’m shooting for the stars.

Kite Flying

So, here I am.  I’m in the home stretch of the ending of my 6 months off from work.  It’s surreal.  I’ve accomplished so much and yet I still have so much I would like to do.  It’s a weird thing to be ‘off’ from work for that long.  I imagine, it’s like being adrift at sea.  It would be different if I had another job or was in transition but I’m not, I’m on sabbatical.  I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and have NEVER had this much idle time.  How I manage my time has been similar to that of a 16 year old.  I’ve slept in, cooked all day, clean my house and rearranged it several times, painted walls, skied, hit the gym, took Chuy for some long, long walks, watched movies as well as 3 entire seasons of Damages (intensely fucked up show, but I love it) and Homeland and took a zillion bubble baths and read.  Giving myself permission to do absolutely nothing was/is hard, my therapist once told me I suffer from ‘Active Laziness.”   

            I gave myself the gift of a lifetime these past 6 months.  I knew even before my last day of work that I had already done something for myself that no one and nothing could ever take back.  I gave myself the gift of dreaming big and abundance.  I threw caution to the wind and flew a kite in all of it.   So, now I find myself in this bittersweet place of leaving this experience.  The experience of climbing the highest free standing mountain on the planet, helping build a footbridge in Rwanda, and traveling around the world, taking time for me.  I’m eager to be productive (the active laziness part of me) as well as continue to nurture and create some stories that matter.  I know how lucky I am after this time.  I’ve been witness to some difficult things as well as some magical things ~ usually they are/were intermingled.  I have scratched the surface of something that has changed me forever.  I can’t NOT know, what I know.   I have a different sense of value as well as who/what I am in the grand scheme of things.  I am humbled yet I have resounding purpose in my little life.  I’m excited to see what the second half of my life brings me. 

            I’ve created an Executive Summary as well as several video clips for my DreamMaker Project.  I have been in contact with several people in Starbucks and I am convinced this is a good idea.  Now, I need to persuade them.  I was never delusional regarding my returning to work as a manager.  I know this will take time to nudge them in the right direction.  Staying positive about something that is so emotive and personal is difficult over time.  Allowing yourself to slide into every emotion, feel it and move on isn’t easy to do.  I interviewed 11 Starbucks partners around the world regarding their dreams and how working for Starbucks helps them get ‘that’ much closer to those dreams.  There is power in feeling connected and that state of relatedness means something.  This I know to be true.

            I also struck something inside of SmartWool with my donation of socks.  I don’t know that it will lead me to any journey with this company but I do think it could make a difference in the lives of the Porters.  My hope is that they continue the donation and will find a niche within the meaning of this.  I have and will continue to nurture this idea and the value/responsibility we hold if we have the means.   Regardless, this donation mattered and I was able to see that first hand. 

            I started this entire journey wanting to create a documentary on the Porters of Kilimanjaro.  Climbing Kilimanjaro and filming the entire event was amazing and exhausting.  Interviewing these magnificent people was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced and I feel an immense privilege holding those stories/interviews.  I know I have the opportunity to make a difference, and that matters.  Teaching myself editing while creating is challenging but I love telling these stories.  I can’t say I’m good at editing but I am crafty at storytelling.  The value of stories is powerful in waking the human spirit.  “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!” ― Maurice SendakWhere the Wild Things Are

Wanderlust

These entries have come to me pretty easy until now.  I feel like I’m in between worlds, unsure of where to land.  I have an overbearing sense of sadness with my adventures ending, yet an excitement for the storytelling process.  It’s as if I feel an obligation to myself, my travels, my experiences and the immense kindness that was offered to me to create something special.

However, I have been slightly knocked on my ass.  In one of my earlier entries I mentioned that I have my own speed at which I experience things and, its not super fast.  Well, …here I am.  Immersion, culture shock, jet lag and most of all, … wanderlust.  I love my home, my community and my family (both chosen and given) but the world is so fucking magnificent.  I love leaving as much as l love coming home.  It took me nearly a week to get past the jet lag.  I don’t think my mind or body belonged to any time zone ~ so, once I stopped it punched me in the neck.  Then there was the issue of me settling into my normalcy and routines.  I was no longer a minority, no one stared at me and I wasn’t doing anything epic (like climbing a mountain or being on a bridge site).  I was just another average woman going to the store.   This is a great thing and a not so great thing all at the same time.  

I don’t want to forget what I was feeling while I was gone.  You know that feeling, this time of year ~ the one where the ground is backlit from the color of the leaves and the light is JUST that much different?  Where you feel like you can reach your hand out and grab a chunk of that color/feeling?   Take THAT feeling and carefully insert it into every cell of your being then you’d start to come close to what my time traveling the world was like.  I don’t want to forget how hard other people work and how easy we have it in this country.  I DO want to change how I interact with others.  In my travels the only thing I was offered was kindness, compassion and assistance.   Not just this trip either, every time I’ve traveled alone I have always been offered kindness from strangers.   I wish we could all have perspective when dealing with each other.  I don’t want to fall into the gap, the normalcy of not going out of my way for another. Energy is a strange thing… an enigma and we have the “choice” of passing it on or eating it up.  It’s a challenging balance to learn boundaries of when to do EACH of these things.  People are amazing.  Human beings are capable of so many lovely things within each day ~ we simply have to choose to do them.  It’s easy to say people are shit, and some are but if so …walk away.  The world has many more good eggs than bad and that …that is amazing.

About a decade ago my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s.  I grew up with her in a farmhouse.  In fact when I was a kid we had 4 generations under one roof.  That’s pretty normal for an Italian family.  I was lucky enough to be there when she died at home under hospice care.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone leave this planet ~ a gift really.  During that time I decided I would go see her hometown in Italy.  A tiny little village on a hilltop in the Abruzzo Region ~ Gambetessa, Italy.  I spent most of my summer in Italy that year.  It was so lovely to walk into a train station and not know where I would go next.  I would simply look up at the board of Departures as it flipped down and displayed the magic of where the trains were going.  Then, I’d buy a ticket that was departing soon for a town that seemed like someplace I should see.  I didn’t have to discuss with anyone, I made no plans ~ I just decided that day where to go next.  What a great way to travel.  Anyway, I bought a ticket to Campobasso and was on my way.  However, if you know Italy ~ there is often a ‘strike’ with the train system.  This can last a few hours or a few days, and I’ve been caught in both of those situations.  This time it lasted a few hours and only on certain routes.  So, I took a train, a bus, then a train, then a bus and finally a train.  It was 10:30 at night and I was riding an empty train except for 2 young women.  They kindly asked me where I was from and we started talking.  I asked them for a suggestion on a place to stay and they told me most places would be closed by the time we arrived.  Without hesitation one girl made a phone call and asked her boyfriend to call his aunt who ran a pensione.  When we arrived at the train station they gave me a ride to the pensione and made sure I was settled and okay.  All three of them gave me a hug and wished me well in my quest to visit my grandmother’s hometown.  The next day I walked to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Gambetessa.  When I arrived, I walked into the tiny town square with a beautiful clock tower building.  Three teenagers were playing soccer in front of it.  I asked them if they knew of a hotel.  All three of them laugh then told me there was no hotel in Gambetessa.  I was shaking.  I pulled out the yellow piece of legal paper I had written my questions in Italian on (I still have it).  I started to unfold it and I could see an older man dressed in a light blue shirt with glasses half way down his nose approaching me.  He gestured with his hand as if to ask, “may I?” to the paper.  I gave it to him as I welled up.  He pushed his glassed up his nose, read the piece of paper then… offered me his arm to follow him into the clock tower building.  He brought me inside, sat me down then went over to a shelf and pulled out a BIG leather bound book.  When he opened it, it took up his entire desk.  The pages were worn with beautiful handwritten entries.  He scanned the entries with his finger, page by page until he stopped and looked up at me.  Then he said, “Victoria Maria DeLuca … here.”  By this time, I was crying.  I looked down and there it was, proof that she was born in Gambetessa.  I was elated and exhausted.  I plopped down, unsure of what to do next.  Giovanni (the man in the blue shirt) made a few phone calls and with my limited understanding of Italian & the speed at which he spoke, I caught every few words… “It looks like she walked here” or “no… she’s young.”  He left me there for a moment while he went to get the girl working at the pharmacy who was English to translate for me.  She informed me that I had family that still lived here and they have been notified of my arrival, …they were walking over to meet me now.  While I waited to meet my family the strangest thing happened.  These elderly people came to meet me as well.  One by one ~ frail men and women with silver hair and watery blue eyes came in to shake my hand or hug me.  They were tiny… I remember because I was sitting down and we were making eye contact.  Some of them, hunched over from working in the fields or from old age.  These people were my grandmothers childhood friends and came to meet ME! 

My grandmothers first cousin would soon arrive ~ Concetta.  She didn’t speak a lick of English and I was so emotive my Italian was out the door.  The Pharmacist helped me communicate and off I went to Concetta’s house but first we all went to the bar/coffeehouse to have a toast.  About 7 of us filled the tiny coffeehouse as we raised our glasses to celebrate my arrival.  Concetta lived a few doors down from her sister Josephina.  They took me in for about a week.  They made me the best homemade pasta ever, and gave me wine they had made in their basement ~ which knocked me on my ass and blood sausage, which I’m not sure I’ll ever have again.  I was shown the remains of the farmhouse my grandmother was born in.  I had an old photo of it that I brought with me to show them. To stand in front of the remains of a building, of the same place I held a old, old picture of was … surreal.  To watch these people that were my family and recognize the similarities that come with family was truly magical. 

 

 Like I said people are wonderful. 

My ‘funk’ of being home comes and goes.  The fact is, what I make of my life is what matters not where I do it.  The world is a beautiful place and to travel is a gift.  But, right here in my neighborhood is also a beautiful place as well.  The choice to be kind and open to people is the value here.  The navigation of energy you wish to give and energy you wish to receive is the challenge.  Some days it is defeating or unsuccessful.  But some days ~ it isn’t. 

Here’s to more of the latter.

New Zealand

4 million people :: 40 million sheep. Yep, it’s true and by the likes of all the lambs I saw just getting their legs under them ~ I’m going to say their pushing 41 million in the sheep department. 
: )
New Zealand reminded me of home surrounded by water … & wine. It was the place I could start my immersion back home. By that I mean, we spoke the same language (shame on me for not knowing 3 or 4 ~ my next life), familiar surroundings (mountain ranges & such) people I know (old neighbors moved there) and wine. What a lovely, lovely place. I never made it to the North Island but something tells be I’ll be back. Two familiar faces (Matt & Kim) and 3 happy tail-wagging dogs of every size & color welcomed me in the sweetest way. There is something very grounding about cuddling on a couch with a pup. 

My first weekend was spent filming some of the farmers of the Otago Region. I had no idea what to expect ~ and was wowed off my feet. Hosted by two lovely people Olivia and Shaun from the New Zealand Merino Wool Industry. The first farm I visited was owned by Andrew & Tracy, a young couple with three very polite and enthusiastic children. Turns out Andrew and Tracy climbed Kili years ago. In fact Andrew was all set to propose at the summit, but Tracy wasn’t able to reach the top due to altitude sickness. So, Andrew went on to the summit alone and managed to propose on the beach in Zanzibar. I told him of my donation of socks to the porters and he understood how valuable that is/was. The next day we drove past Queenstown to Bills farm. Bill is an older gentleman and has been doing this his entire life, as did his father. At this point he now has someone managing his farm for him. He told me in his next life he’d like to come back as a coffee farmer. : ) He has one of the largest sheep farms in the Otago Region. I watched & filmed a “gang” of sheep shearers do their work. One of the largest gangs around ~ 10 shearers and the team that supports them. I was able to film the “classifier” while he worked, which is the one person deciding if the wool meets the critical standard for Merino Wool. He does so visually and by touch. The entire process is and was a privilege to witness. These farmers are nurturers. They are scientists, weathermen (women), biologists, computer programmers, vets and mothers & fathers. They love being outside and connected to the planet on so many levels. THIS was my introduction to New Zealand. 
Olivia dropped me off in Queenstown after our days of filming. She grew up there so she made sure to play tour guide with lots of quirky information and jot down suggestions for me and my limited time there. Queenstown is an adventurers paradise. Budgie jumping, paragliding, rafting ,helicopter tours, skiing & snowboarding, mountain biking, sailing, water skiing… The list is endless. Take all the parts you like about Vail, Aspen, Telluride smash them together and throw a gigantic lake with the most unreal color of water (oh, and a mountain range called The Remarkables) and you’re “close” to Queenstown. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect - the bar below my room was open until 4:30am, so there is that. 
The water ~ I can’t begin to try to explain the color of the water. A color I’ve never seen before. That night I had dinner with 2 couples that welcomed me to their table. One was a young couple from Australia (teachers who spent time working on a ranch in WY) the other an older newlywed couple (he was a widower and she … She had introduced him to his first wife a lifetime ago). They had just married in Fiji and he surprised her with Queenstown before going home to Wellington. We were all strangers. We ate, drank, laughed and talked. It was perfect. 

The remainder of my time in New Zealand was in Dunedin. My old neighbors moved here a year ago in search of a better life, and they found it for themselves. It was so nice to be around people I knew in a foreign land and have them show me around. We went to the Muso Club one night and listened to Matt’s band, drank yummy wine and cook dinners at their house. We walked the dogs, I ran errands with them and they showed me the peninsula they now live on. They are former college professors that now own/run a tex-mex food cart, Tex Atago (“tacos way south of the border”) There is nothing like it in New Zealand and they do a great job. They are a true to life taco cart on the South Island and business is booming. The best part … They’re happy. They have landed in their bliss and that was beautiful to witness.  
I interviewed Starbucks partners at three different locations on the South Island asking them about their dreams. All different ages, nationalities and backgrounds. I traveled to the southern most point I could go to, without going to Antarctica, watched a sea lion sunbathe on a rock and a blue penguin peek out from under some stairs. I saw Royal Albatross sail above my head and walked dogs on a beach along the South Pacific. I drank wine with my friends, told them of my journeys and filled them in on my life. I was dipping my toes back into my life and it all felt good. 

Now I am nearly half way on my way home. I’m back in Bangkok (making sure to drink a Singha and eat some Thai food) on my way to Beijing. I’m tired, excited, happy and sad to see it all ending. But something tells me this is only the beginning of something new for me. I’m not sure how or what that means but I DO know the world isn’t as big as I once thought. I do know I will see much more of this planet before my days end. I do know that regardless of where you call home we all strive & struggle with the same things ~ just on different levels. I now know and question the “have” part of my life and value those things differently than ever before. And, I do know we all have similar dreams ~ that I know with every ounce of my being.

 

Goodbye Thailand

Tomorrow I head to New Zealand. 

Thailand has been wonderful. Everything from my entry coming from Africa, my time with Terri and the city of Bangkok. The few pounds I shed in Africa I found again… Here. The city is a monster but not a scary one. It’s mammoth size is like that of NYC but its so, so very different. I spent most of my time in an area called Prompong and walking around. Once back from my island time, I hopped on the sky train and explored a bit more. I decided to take in some touristy sites on Sunday but was limited to a Longtail boat ride up/down the river and the oldest temple in Bangkok, that is home to the Reclining Buddha. I saw more Buddha statues than I have my entire life in those few hours walking the temple. The actual Reclining Buddha was epic … His feet were huge and the bottoms had beautiful inlay with mother of pearl. The grounds of the temple reminded me of walking the Forum in Italy … Beautiful, mystical and surreal amidst this massive city… and, cats. Cats everywhere. I’d definitely come back as a cat & hang out in temples and ruins. The people watching would be amazing. : )

I tend to enjoy doing the “other” things when I travel and found that my TukTuk ride from the temple home was quite the adventure. My driver was great and took me for an adventurous ride (I think he was trying to avoid traffic, which is maddening here). We witnessed a scooter crash, zipped in/out of markets setting up for the night, dodged some sprinkles & had to ask for directions toward the end. It took nearly an hour and a half and I saw a lot of Bangkok, at dusk ~ perfect! I walked back to my swanky apartment and bam it started pouring down - thunder, lighting and pounding rain. Again, … perfect. 

The food has been great. I’ve had everything from noodles to curry to sushi - which I’m heading out for tonight my last night. I’ve ordered street food from vendors and not quite sure what I ended up eating. One day I thought I ordered some grilled chicken on a skewer … I’m certain it wasn’t chicken. The first day in Bangkok I found a cart that was very popular and ordered a noodle bowl from a tiny lady. She pointed to a piece of grilled/BBQ’d meat and I said “sure!” Again, not sure what that was. On the island, I had great tasty dishes. One morning I had a BLT that was Devine, …Oh, Bacon! We shared some pretty great pancakes the size of our heads, and fried bananas with warm honey. For me the only thing missing was good wine, but I got thru it. : )
New Zealand will make up for what I missed the last 6 weeks. 

The other day I visited two different Starbucks locations here in Bangkok. U-Sa Patanachotikul, from Partner Resources was kind enough to meet me and set up two interviews, one with a store manager and the other a part time barista. I was able to chat/film them each, in their stores and ask them about their dreams and how working for Starbucks is helping them achieve those dreams. It was invigorating, inspiring and just plain fun. They seemed as excited about my DreamMaker project as I am. It was … A very good day. 

My time has been surreal. I’ve started to see the end of my travels and my bank account is dwindling. The stress of my “real world” has begun to creep in and freak me out. I’ve let “that” voice crawl in and tell me what I’m doing is irresponsible - that I shouldn’t throw away my life savings like this! It’s difficult to talk yourself down from that, but I’m trying. I know the stories I’ve witnessed and captured are amazing but that ‘devil’ of a voice really is evil. It can take all these amazing experiences and squash them in a nano second. I’m human and have fallen prey to this over the last few days. What if everything I’m hoping to do doesn’t work out? What if I interview all these great people that work for Starbucks in Thailand & New Zealand and Starbucks says “thanks, but no thanks?” What if I make a documentary about the Porters of Kilimanjaro and people aren’t interested? What if the connection I wish to make with Bridges To Prosperity & Starbucks doesn’t pan out? What if… I have to end my sabbatical early and go back to managing a store? Does thinking this way make me weak or not confident? My answer that I have to sometimes fight to find… Is NO. 

I can’t help but remind myself where I was last month and how lucky I am. Feeling these moments of fear or emotion are part of the journey. I’ve had a glorious 6 weeks so far. My experiences, the people I’ve met, the hours, days and weeks have been pure magic. The code of our culture (which can be fucked up at times) is bound to creep in. I haven’t had the opportunity to really talk to anyone who knows me since we came down off of Kilimanjaro & The Scott family left. I’ve had FaceTime with Terri a few times and she came to visit, but otherwise it’s just been me and wonderful people who don’t really know me. I’ve posted pictures on Facebook & Instagram - but my community, my friends & family, my everyday connections haven’t been here. It’s a strange thing to do for an extended period of time. I enjoy this time to myself and revel in it, but it can take a toll on me when I’m feeling alone or emotional. I don’t think I saw it coming, which is another factor. Regardless, I will kindly usher “those” feelings out and work to steady myself - in myself. Then, I will remind myself that everything will be, what it will be - and I will be, … grateful. 

New Zealand is my next stop. I get to travel to this wonderful new place where my old neighbors Kim & Matt now live. I’m excited to see where they’ve landed and what their lives are like now. I’m also meeting with some farmers who provide the wool for SmartWool socks. I get to hang out with these folks and film them for a few days. It’s a connection that came from my sock drop to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program (KPAP). It’ll be a real treat to witness these farmers and where all that great wool comes from. How wonderful is it that I asked for some socks to donate to people who really, really need them & now I get to see how/where it all starts. This is the final destination before I begin my long journey home October 1st. 

As always, thanks for checking in and ~ stay tuned for the last leg of a wonderful journey.

Bangkok

I’m currently sitting in a swanky apartment on the 12th floor of a 40 story building in Bangkok, Thailand. 

My emersion into the Bangkok Airport was nothing short of fantastical. Beautiful, shiny, contemporary, clean with amazing technology everywhere. It was as if I had arrive on another planet. 

I sometimes joke that I’m a little “slow” to catch on to things, but I honestly think that can be a positive attribute of mine. I can be simple and innocent but it’s usually because I’m in the moment and immersing myself in experience. This has sometimes resulted in heartache and heartbreak but at this point, I accept this is who I am & my “clock” is wired this way. I like this about myself. 
This quality has allowed me to really “steep” in what the past month was for me and genuinely take each day as it arrives. Walking thru that airport was magical, like a kid in an amusement park. It was a feast on every sensory level. It was also … just glorious. The clean bathrooms, the ginormous flatscreen televisions all in unison, the beautiful tiny people (smaller than me) offering me direction, and sweet smiles … and the food! 

THE Food. I’m in Chinatown - Bangkok. Home to the best street food on the planet, and I intend to eat my way thru it. Last night I walked around - more like staggered, being so tired from traveling. Today, I will devour. The cost of things here is amazing. 35 THB for a lovely noodle bowl that will blow your mind. Our swanky apartment that we rented from AirB&B is costing $40 a night. I took a swim last night in the infinity pool on the 30th floor overlooking the city and did laundry in the washer/dryer in the kitchen. The entire apartment looks like the opening scene of “Fight Club” or an Ikea catalogue. I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie. 

This, on the heels of Africa can mess with you. My emotions are like a pinball right now. I’m happy, blissful and elated ~ then I think of the poverty that I just erupted from and I feel stoic or ashamed. I know this complexity is part of what I am meant to experience - but it’s challenging. I feel childlike in trying to understand it. How can some have so much and some nothing at all? How is it that I have the life I have? Sure, these are questions I asked myself in 5th grade Social Studies class but they are different now - they cut to the core. I’m not THAT naive to poverty or wealth. I grew up in a lower income family, with four generations under one roof. My dad was/is a farmer and my mom was going to school to become a teacher. Our home was beautiful but we didn’t have an abundance of money. We were like everyone else. We lived within our means and on a strict budget. Africa was different, very different. 

Now, I’m living in another dimension. Terri is held up in San Francisco and will arrive later than planned. I’m sad because I am wanting to see her and be around “my person.” But after what I just experienced, I’m just grateful she is coming. : ) 
I’m sad she has to be on “that” end of things. She’ll be here tomorrow night and we’ll be back on track for our vacation. I’ll go grab a tuktuk and begin exploring Bangkok then go greet her at the airport and load our fridge with a beer and some yummy Thai food for her arrival. Then hit the “resume” button. 

I will write again soon with pics and stories from a full belly.

 

Rwanda

After climbing Kilimanjaro I headed to Rwanda to film and help on a bridge site with the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity. I was greeted by Andrew (the Project Manager) a bright , blonde haired bearded man ~ who was kind enough to pick me up at 12:30 in the morning. 

Kigali was a much bigger city than where I had come from ~ Moshi & Arusha. Buses, cars moto bikes zipped around the city’s roundabouts and tight rolling red hillsides. Real city pollution filled the air. A vast difference from the open flat lands of Tanzania. The next day Andrew was kind enough to help me run a few errands and gave me a lay of the land. I have a decent sense of direction but Kigali schooled me. Forget any type of grid system or even street addresses. I would just have to remember landmarks to find Andrews house again. There was no physical address for me to reference. 

On Thursday we would make our way to the bridge site - Cyamutuda. We piled in the pick up truck. Andrew & I up front and Everest & Étienne in the back seat of the extended cab. Within an hour we were on a red dirt road that then turned into a red, rutted dirt road so deep you could fall into them. The word “remote” now had new meaning for me. We bounced around and up and down. 4 hours later we arrived at the site. Children running and chasing the truck as we made our way to park. Little voices yelling “good morning!” regardless of what time it actually was. 
Once we arrive, I plopped out of the truck happy to have my feet on the ground. Children appeared from all directions chiming “good morning” & “how are you?” Beautifully enunciated, yet not sure of the meaning, their attempts at communicating and English far outweighed my lackluster knowledge of Kinyarwanda.  
The village was beautiful. Red rolling hillsides with lovely cultivated Cassava and Banana trees. Majestic cows, steer and goats everywhere. Handmade red brick, modest houses with tiny open windows. This would be my home for the next week but rattled my soul within moments. 
What struck me first was the joy of these people. Beautiful smiles stretching ear to ear. Everyone shaking your hand, eye contact and “miriwe” or “good morning.” We pranced down, down, down to the bridge site and greeted by Kathryn, the engineer assisting on the project. She shared with me that she was here to offer assistance but that the Rwandans were the ones building the bridge. She had a tiny frame and a giant smile as big as the bundle of curls on her head. I could tell immediately these people adored her and heeded her advice soundly, equal to the impression they had clearly made on her. It’s a unique thing to walk up to a group of people that holds this much respect in its mist. 

The river was shallow this time of year but the valley vast. I could see the footprint of the impact the river made once the rainy season started, which would begin any day now. 
Within days - Everest, Étienne, Vinuest, Domesean and Kathryn had set the sag and were starting to install the crossbeams. The sag is the tedious task of ensuring the cables are set properly before building the bridge on them. Vinuest is the assistant to the main construction foreman Domesean, who spoke no English. Vinuest also held the job of cooking us dinner each night after working all day. We chopped vegetables and helped when he would allow us, but he was the main cook. He would provide us warm meals at lunch and dinner. Lunch time involved him running up and down the hillside while working on the bridge site. 

I should mention, this village has no electricity or running water. Cooking happened over two small charcoal stoves and was usually a veggie stew over rice or potatoes. Water had to be collected in Jerry cans at the spring a five minute walk away. 

Once the crossbeams were secured to the cables with long twisted pieces of rebar the decking could be attached. First the crossbeams had to be “pushed out” manually a meter apart from those wearing harnesses that attached to the cables. Once in place the decking would be first nailed down, and later screwed in with long hefty screws. What would take an afternoon to complete in the states, took days here. The biggest power tool was manual labor. The drills that assisted were battery powered and had to be recharged with a gasoline generator. Some of the decking was at the site but most was yet to arrive. I found out that the remainder of Eucalyptus wood for the deck would be arriving that day, which was Umuganda - a monthly day of community service practiced by all Rwandans. This meant instead of the wood arriving via truck it would be carried piece by piece manually atop of people’s heads. It was amazing to watch these people coming down the hillside, usually barefoot carrying boards, four meters long on top of their heads. As quickly as the arrived they were attached to the crossbeams and the bridge was built right before our eyes. My week there was perfect timing and the most visually stimulating because of this. 
Once the deck was attached it was stained with used motor oil to protect the wood. The final job was to fill in the huge piles of dirt unearthed where the giant cables were anchored. Once that dirt was filled back in (a laborious task) then it was compacted and cement was poured on top. On one end a beautiful stone wall was erected from river rocks. 

The day I arrived was Vinuest’s 21st birthday but he mentioned it to no one. It wasn’t until Sunday night when we were talking about birthdays, we realized his had *just* happened. Earlier that week Vinuest had shared that he had 5 sisters and a mom, but that his brother and “Daddy” had died in the genocide. Kathryn made a quiet phone call to Andrew who would be arriving Tuesday to request he bring up a cake. Andrew arrived with a cake decorated with “Happy Birthday Vinuest” on it. After Vinuest made us dinner, Kathryn and Andrew disappeared in the house for a moment. When they reemerged, they had the cake with a candle and the group of us (about 7 of us) started singing Happy Birthday. Vinuest was confused and shocked that this was for him, he stood up so excited he was literally jumping up and down. It was clear he had NEVER had his birthday celebrated like this, let alone a cake with his name on it. It was one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed (well, one of many this past month). Once he blew out the candle Andrew told him it was a tradition to take a small bite right away out of the cake. The next thing I know Vinuest has cake on his face and is giggling! We told him it was his cake and he could share if he wanted. He cut us each a piece then sat there with the headlamp on, eating cake with the most genuine, sweet smile on his face. I swear he would have eaten the entire cake if we didn’t tell him it was ok to save some for tomorrow’s breakfast. He sat there for a moment quiet ~ then said, “thank you, this day I do not forget.” 


I have *so* many stories to share …like the teacher who brought his entire class to cross the bridge and named it “The Ambassador”; Étienne and Everest explaining to me what a Rwandan wedding was like, the little boy Kazoo who worked with all the adults and would not stop working; the thin older woman wearing the “hello, my name is trouble!” Tshirt, everyone getting sodas the last day … So much to share! These are only a handful of a week that changed my life. 

I ended my stay in Kigali by spending time at the Genocide Museum. I weep and walked for three hours. It is a lovely place for so many souls to rest. I will spend the rest of my life trying to wrap my head around this type of human behavior and history, certain I will never understand. It was profoundly moving and worth the efforts to come to Rwanda to visit this site. Nothing could prepare me for seeing the massive gravesite’s or the names on the wall, knowing some souls were never found, women raped, people dumped into latrines to die or that infants and children were massacred. 

I left Kigali yesterday morning with Andrew once again being kind enough to take me to the airport. My flight said nonstop to Kilimanjaro but ended up stoping in Dar es Salaam for a moment. Taking off from DAR I was given a sneak peak of the beautiful water. Islands and what I believe was Madagascar off the coast. The colors were vibrant and an indicator of my next stop ~ Bangkok. Today I leave to meet Terri and share some much needed time with her. This next month will be a new adventure on the heels of something so deeply lovely. 
Goodbye Africa. I promise I’ll be back!

Grateful

Well, I did it! 
I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro!

We reached the summit about 4 pm Wednesday afternoon, August 14th. It was easily the most difficult thing I have ever done on every level. Many times I found myself questioning why am I doing this? I’ve hiked and climbed a good portion of my life, but this ~ this was different. It’s impossible to write an entry regarding something as transformational as this experience. What I will try to convey are the highlights. 

Being outside trekking up a mountain in Africa IS as magical as it sounds. 60 miles of life zones that were amazing to experience first hand. Walking in, up and out of the clouds … Surreal. On the second day we turned the corner and “BAM” there she was, the first time we all finally saw Kili. She was daunting and exilerating all at the same time. But honestly, I was scared. To see a mountain that massive and think I could be successful in reaching the top seemed arrogant. From that point forward she would stare down at me everyday and everyday I would quietly mutter under my breath my respect … and request mercy. In all my years on the planet one of the things I know for certain :: Mother Nature is a reckoning force. 

The most valuable piece of the entire adventure was The Porters. Onest, our Head Guide with the sweetest, kindest eyes put us at ease and softly encouraged us on our way. Sunday, one of our Assistant Guides has a smile & belly laugh that are infectious and can change your mood as quickly as the weather on that mountain, while offering reassurance and trust in his skills. Then, there was the second Assistant Guide, Pablo who often goes by “Rasta” who’s unsuspecting lanky frame was cheerful, attentive, knowledgable & freakishly strong. 

There were another 30 Porters that made our trek possible. David, Felix and Mark made sure we were fed three times a day (when our appetites would comply). Our meals were well thought out and I was always amazed at the food. Porters carried our tents, food, supplies, water and gear while we managed our “day packs”. Each Porter has a weight limit of 33 pound plus their own stuff - which roughly equates to 35 to 40 pounds. Everything is placed in large waterproof bags that they balance on the nape of their necks or atop their heads. If you think you have a difficult job I beg you to witness what these men do while smiling and thanking you for coming to their country. 

As we would hike our daily route these Porters would dash by us as if we were standing still. They would race each other for fun and in order to secure the “best” campsite for that evening. As they passed, sweat rolling from their bodies saying “jambo”! Some of these Porters were just boys (rule is you have to be 18, but some lie about their age for the work) others were grown men aged with experience and physical hardship. On long hiking days of 8-9 hours we were greeted with song and dance from this lovely group of people. They were honestly proud of us for finishing everyday. What a selfless existence. 

Over those 9 days we learn about our Guides lives… why the do this, what their family think of their jobs, how they are treated by their company and what it was like only years ago before KPAP ( Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). We discovered that some companies still don’t comply with the weight limit and some Porters carry way too much so the profit margin is greater for the company. We did business via Thompson Safaris and we were assured countess times how ethical, involved and fair they were. Many Porters strive to work with such companies so they can have good working conditions, meals, proper equipment, good wages & fair tips. 
When I arrived at KPAP to drop off the socks I’d collected from SmartWool I heard stories that rattled my insides. I interviewed David, who helps run KPAP as he told me his story of when he started as a Porter. Sadly, I know there are many stories like his. 

This mountain was difficult for me. Maybe for some it’s a long hike, but for me it was not. My body was strong enough, but my lungs worked hard. I had my struggle with altitude sickness the morning after summiting, and camping at 18,500 feet. I couldn’t sleep at that altitude or in that type of cold. I had been congested since day two and breathing only thru my mouth made it challenging. I woke, vomited and started down just ahead of my group. Within 30 mins I started feeling better but a slight fever had set in. It was a long hard day that had me in tears when I arrived at camp that day… Relieved, tired and ready to be done. My body couldn’t regulate it’s temperature and was pissed at me. I laid down for a nap and within 2 hours was feeling so much better. We had a ceremony for the Porters that evening before the sunset, then I climbed in my bag, got toasty warm (as warm as you can at 12,800 feet) and slept. I skipped dinner and hadn’t eaten since the previous days breakfast. The next day - I was back at nearly 100%.  
Besides having the goal of summiting, I also had the “job” of filming this journey which was also taxing as well. Always keeping my “eye” on and aware, anticipating that “capture” while maintaining all my systems - emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual… 
Needless to say, I’m tired. 

We descended from the summit in a day and a half. Each step down was like breathing in water, my body a sponge, soaking in the richness of life. We slept with glaciers the night before and now I was walking in a rain forest. 

Now I’m back at the spot were I started. Waiting for the electricity to come back on so I can post this.  
It may take me months (once I get home in October) for me to review all this content… I can’t wait to see what stories surface. I have a million of them jolting thru my body right now. Gratitude seems to be the theme.

 

72 Hours

In the past 72 hours I have witnessed radical poverty, extreme tradition and immense wealth. I’m not quite sure how to feel. My emotions bounce around like a pinball between weeping, laughing, awestruck, fantastical but always arrive at gratitude.  
I’m currently sitting in a magical setting drinking coffee, watching the sunrise some where in the middle of Africa. Yesterday we went for a walk with Thomas our guide who has been working here for 20 years. He sees his family for a month out of the year. He has 4 children - 11, 9, 4 and one years old. He spoke openly about his life and how he puts on “another Wardrobe” for work because he is Maasai. He pointed out elephant tracks, zebra and various other tracks. None of us thought we would be fortunate enough to see anything but we were wrong. We watched two elephants, herds of antelope, waterbuck, zebras… And my favorite the giraffe! My body continues to vibrate from what I saw. Watching these animals in their own back yard is beyond amazing. 

I’m running out of time and must collect my bags. Now… I’m off. Next time I check in, I will be down the mountain. 
Send me luck! I’m nervous, scared and excited.

Jambo Tanzania!

My journey began on Friday night August 2, and I’ve finally arrived in Tanzania on Monday morning at 5am. The complexity of traveling multiple legs with bags of donated socks can me a real time monster - no down time between flights (except for Ethiopia, which I’ll talk about later). The cost for getting the socks here so far is $360. My friends, The Scott Family have the other 600 pairs and I’m hoping they didn’t have to pay extra baggage fees. They arrive tonight and it’ll be good and somewhat strange to see familiar faces in such a foreign land. The completed task of getting the socks here feels good, I mean shit - I’ve been collecting socks, packing socks and lugging socks around for 6 months. : )

My flights changed at the last minute and I ended up having to spend 16 hours in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I’ve been lucky enough to keep an open mind & heart on this journey, and when this detour arrived ~ I ran at it the same way. What struck me first was the sincere kindhearted people - always smiling and willing to help. Genuine hellos and eye contact. The intense interest of connecting, as human beings - no guardedness, no walls - just honest to goodness talking. Before leaving Mr. Martins Cozy Hostel last night at 9pm, I was saying goodbye to Isaac, Sophie and Sandra like I’d known them for years. We sat around a small traditional coffee table while they drank St. George beer and talked about politics, beer, schooling and our dislike of country music - Isaac pointing out that its always about their tractor or their truck. : )  
Then, they helped me load my immense bags into Samuel’s cab so I could get to the airport. 
That was the beauty of my brief visit, the heart wrenching poverty was also part of my visit. Witnessing things that made my heart want to implode with sadness. Walking the streets of this city was powerful. The day to day life these people endure, cut to the quick. The small makeshift stoves, cooking with scraps of wood and trash, to roast corn. The muddy streets filled with trash, waste, sickness, dogs and people sleeping. It’s the rainy season now and it seemed to rain on/off the entire 16 hours I was there. The children playing in the street, calling me “sista” and asking for money. The other kids kicking a makeshift ball and giggling. At night they brought out homemade deep fryers and sold French Fries & Donuts. I of course, had a donut that put Krispy Kreme to shame. : ) There was also an abundance of pizza and pasta restaurants, which I found strange. 

Now, I’m sitting at a picnic table overlooking the beautiful landscape of Tanzania. The place I’m staying is pretty darn swanky and is part of my Trek to climb Kilimanjaro. The grounds are clean and well maintained. The wireless connection fast and free. Everything is lush and the sounds of life abundant - birds, bees, colors & music…
I have a feeling my insides are going to be rattled every which way on this trip. So, hang on… I’m just starting.

The Universe is Talking...

I’m drinking a glass of Rose from the South of France, eating popcorn with truffle salt and listening to Ben Howard.  I’ve been a wee bit stress lately, and this is my night to redirect myself.  I’ve written but haven’t posted anything for a while as I sift some thru some things for myself and about myself.

Truth is I’m pretty hard on me.  I have expectations and when I don’t achieve them in the manner I’ve planned, I become discouraged or rough on myself.   I wanted Starbucks to be SO excited and enamored with my project and plans that they would want to support me financially prior to my departure.  I mean, hell anyone who knows me – knows my work ethic and determination to perform, why the hold up – right?

Instead, what happened is solid, sincere interest and immense gratitude for my service and what I plan to do.  What I’ve learned is that communicating with a corporation, especially a global one – takes time, a long time.  It’s like one of those tankers out in the ocean turning… slow progress.  The universe doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle – it challenges you and you find your path. 

Instead, what happened is something magical.  It fell back onto me.  Literally, fell back into my lap… this is my journey – not Starbucks.  This is my experience and my project not the company I’ve been working for.  It’s the slightest twist to the left but what happened is something truly magnificent.  See, while I was busy collecting support – which is a critical piece of this story/project – I lost touch with the essence of what this is for me.  This is about me being selfish – about me taking care of the evolution of me.   It’s that simple.  The rest is a story yet to be written – I need not plan it, just experience it then tell it.

I believe in this as much as I believe in my friends, family, community and the love of my dog Chuy.  I know this is the wisest thing I have ever done financially, professionally and personally.  I have never bought a lottery ticket – but this is my version of picking the winning numbers. 

Nothing about this is a risk.  Nothing.   

I have already changed so much and I haven’t even left Colorado

So, here’s what I can tell you about my plans.  My friends at SmartWool have given me over 800 pairs of socks to donate to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program.  The family I am climbing Kili with are going to help me bring the socks over in our luggage.  I am currently talking to Thomson Safaris about helping me with the cost to get the donation of socks to Africa.  Mike’s Camera is going to donate/loan the camera equipment for me to document this entire experience and sent me to a video workshop on their behalf.  My friend who runs the non-profit Bridges to Prosperity has put me in touch and made arrangements for me to spend two weeks with them in Rwanda helping & filming, where there is generally a 3 month commitment (my hope is to make a connection here with Starbucks and others with this worthy, wonderful organization).  I have three contacts in Starbucks that are helping me; Public Affairs, The Elite Athlete Program and Blair Taylor.  All of these people are interested and supportive on different levels.  

Let me explain.  Public Affairs want to follow me on their social media and highlight my sabbatical.  The Elite Athlete Program wants to connect health & wellness to what I’m doing and leverage it throughout the company.  Blair Taylor likes my Digital Storytelling idea of Starbucks being a “Dream Maker” but wants to see what I put together when I return, before moving in any direction. 

So, I’m back at the beginning.  I’m back where I need to be – back in touch with my journey and my story.  I’ve cashed in my life savings and purchased a ticket to climb the tallest freestanding mountain on the planet and travel around the world.   

Last year I went to the Ted event here in Denver, the topic was “Risk and Reward”.   

The other thing I believe – the universe always tells you the truth, you have to decide to listen.

Pinch Me

            “Is it all a dream or, is it really happening?”  This is the line that’s been running thru my head lately.  Those close to me have assured me, that it is indeed happening.  {Insert bashful smile here}

             Let me fill you in.  I was encouraged by my boss to watch the Starbucks Shareholders Meeting on line and pay attention to Blair Taylor’s speech.   So, I did.  I watched that and something called The Partner Forum.    Since Starbucks is a profit sharing company the connection to the people who work for them is very important.  The entire thing (both of them) was captivating.  The way this company is run blows my mind.  The value of the human spirit is the most important asset in this company. From the famers to the barista, the human connection is THE most valuable commodity, period.  This is why I enjoy working for this company.  At the end of the day, and at the end of my days, I know nothing will mean more to me than people.  To work for a corporation that shares that value is tremendous.  

            After watching Blair Taylor speak, I was compelled to write to him.  I found his role in Starbucks to be inspirational and meaningful.  I also found his direction to be admirable.  Blair Taylor is the Chief Community Officer for Starbucks.  This is a new position within the company and I believe the first within a profit sharing company.   In this newly created position, he will lead the company’s Community, Government Relations, Diversity and Global Responsibility teams. He will also serve as a member of the Starbucks Foundation Board of Directors.  I wanted to talk to him about an idea I have, and using my sabbatical as the pilot for the idea.  Here is a little of what I sent to Mr. Taylor:

               My idea is simple.  I would like to start a Digital Storytelling piece of the company and use Social Media as a method to leverage stories for both partners and customers to connect.  I see the world we live in changing and the way we connect can be a powerful thing that results in a revenue generating force of the company not only in profit of sales but of pride.  

             Howard (Schultz) in the Partner Forum, said he wanted to talk about who we are as people, not a brand.  I believe the time for Digital Storytelling is ripe and organic for the company.  Using Social Media to leverage the messaging can be another way Starbucks is innovative and on the cusp of the way we do business.  Using the ‘lens of humanity’ as our compass we could be pioneers of a new way to connect to uniquely show the company is dependent of the human spirit.  

                  As a culture, we are changing the way we relate to who we choose to give our business to, why not tell a story people can feel good about?  The quote Dave Olsen referred to, “Too many people have jobs that are too small for their spirit” is valuable here because Starbucks encourages we as partners to pursue our dreams because of the work environment and the essence of the company.   Turns out, everyone loves a good story.  As you mentioned, people are longing for truth, humanity and authenticity.  The beautiful part about stories is they continue to be told, even after the first telling.

            Here’s the kicker … He wrote back and likes my idea.  So, now I have a meeting set up with Mr. Taylor next month.   I do believe I have hit on an idea that is ripe for development and interest.  I could very well be creating a new position for myself within a company that I’ve grown up in.  I mean really, how cool is that? 

            Part of my proposal to Starbucks is to use my sabbatical as the pilot episode of this new Digital Story Telling.   The cornerstone is that I want to tell the stories only a 10-year partner can tell.  That is the pivotal piece of this.   Partners that work in the stores and customers that connect with those barista’s – these are the stories that need/should be told.  The other piece of my pitch is to show that Starbucks is a “Dream Maker.”  Whether it is the barista that is putting themselves thru school, the mom who needs insurance while they get their framing shop up and running, or the musician who wants to land a record deal, or the photographer looking for a job in his career … Starbucks has a role in helping these people pursue their dreams.  I want to tell those stories, not only here in the US but around the world.  I want to show that we are all connected and all have similar desires and dreams.  Then, I want to create video vignettes leveraged via Social Media.   I believe we, as consumers want to feel connected to who it is we do our life-maintenance business with.  I want to highlight what it means to be a part of community and showcase how that adds value to all of us.

Legs & Balls

Climb Kilimanjaro.  

That is how this all started.  

Nothing more.  

Then it grew a pair of legs (and balls) and has turned into so much more.

This week, SmartWool said yes and I had a phone interview with the Public Affairs department of Starbucks.  I will start collecting product from SmartWool to donate to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project http://www.kiliporters.org/.  How I get these items to Tanzania will be my next hurdle.   The idea of donating items on someone else’s behalf that will improve many lives is wonderful & amazing. 

Starbucks wants to know my story.  My story of the past 10 years and what my plans are.   At the very least they would like to follow me on their Social Media avenues.  I will find out quickly - if & what type of support they can offer me via sponsorship of this project. 

Something else has been happening as well.   Asking for what I want in this world.  Not only asking, believing in it and that I am worthy of it.   Talking with my friend Nancy is what made me aware of it.  I’m not sure that I was doing this with a sense of awareness, I was simply doing.  It came from a very organic place of compassion and vulnerability, but also from logic – if I chose not to ‘ask’ then the answer was/is always no.  I stumbled upon this Ted talk last night and it highlights this idea.

http://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking.html

Worse case scenario is that I take 6 months off of work, travel to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro, donate my time and some resources I have arranged.  Come back home and play with all this lovely content and create some digital stories to share, then return to my job with Starbucks.  Not a bad scenario.  Not bad at all.    

Best case scenario,  … has yet to be determined.

Swimming with the current

I’ve heard both sides of things.  “Life shouldn’t be this hard” or, “it takes work.”  I guess somewhere in the middle lies the truth.  Perhaps the idea is to slow down and connect to yourself in order to really figure out your path. 

Most of my life has been by happenstance.  I just ‘go with the flow’ and enjoy myself.  That’s not a bad way to live, in fact when I look back on my story it’s pretty amazing.  That feels good.  Something has shifted in me over the last few years and I believe it’s because I took the time to myself, to get to know ME again.  The result has been well worth the investment.  My sense of self at work and personally has shifted in a way I feel proud of.

This project for Kilimanjaro is growing, evolving into something new every day.  I’ve simply asked myself ‘what do you want?’ and then listen to how to make that happen.  I’m dreaming big.   

I’ve been having conversations with a few companies in hopes of gaining some sort of sponsorship for this event.  I’m currently talking with SmartWool about donating socks on their behalf to the Porters Program.  The other conversation I’m having is with Starbucks.  

I approached Starbucks months ago while at a conference in Houston.  I didn’t follow up until recently.  Turns out Starbucks is interested in my project.   Starbucks is a profit sharing company and many of the employees (partners) are unaware that they have money in a Fidelity Account just because they show up for work.   I’ve identified a gap with how Starbucks is communicating this to the thousands of people that work in the stores.  These partners need to have partners talking to them, not the people above them.  These people identify with one another and they need that conversation.  They need to know Starbucks can be a ‘dream maker’ and has a compassionate side to the way it does business that begins at the store level.  So, I went into stores and filmed baristas answering the question ‘what’s one of your dreams?’  The truth is most of the people who work in the stores come from middle class families and are educated.  Therefore their dreams are a reflection of that.   Sure, there are some fringe stories of extreme circumstances – donating a kidney, recovering after a severe fight with illness, but what about the everyday dreams.  The average dreams.  Starbucks is a global company.  I want to travel around the world and continue to ask the question to people of all cultures in stores “what’s one of your dreams?”   I want to show a sense of relatedness and connection that results in inspiration, motivation and pride.  Filming Kili is one thing, to continue to film and show how my dream can connect to many other dreams, that’s another.  To highlight the fact that after 10 years of working for a company that has helped me every year to live my dreams then, offer me an opportunity to capture Kilimanjaro… that is a beautiful story that should & needs to be told. 

With the help of my Regional Director, my District Manager and others I have honed in on one person to talk with in the Public Affairs team in Seattle.  The conversations have just begun but I have a sense this will be some hearty conversation and dialogue.  My pitch is in its infancy but I trust that it has legs and good intention.   That is a good place to start.  I’ll continue to nurture and let others help breathe life into it, I’ve never been much of a control freak and believe this will pay off with this event.

My sabbatical begins July 18th for 6 months.  With any luck this will mean a few months of traveling and the remainder playing with all the content and memories of those adventures, to create some lovely stories to share. 

Oh, and entire thing begins with another Epic Relay run across Colorado with lovely people.  Turns out … I’m Lucky.

 

 

Sagittarius

I’m a Sagittarius. 

Some of the traits: dreamer, friendly, warm, enthusiastic about life, optimistic with the drive to experience life to the full – incorporating adventure (mental and physical).  Sagittarius people are idealistic and have high expectations. They quickly outgrow childhood haunts and have a thirst for travel. Freedom of movement is important to them and they always manage to raise their sights a little higher each time. As a result they usually travel far and wide.

The Sagittarius’ word is her bond. Those born under this sign will never offer what they cannot deliver. A high code of ethics is never far from their surface. They are benevolent and quick to offer support to those less able to fight for themselves.  They have high standards but are playful and even light hearted in pursuit of these.

Yep, that’s me.  What the horoscope won’t tell you about a Sag, is when we toss our arrows; we can drive ourselves crazy following them.  We tend to be focused to a fault.  Age is teaching me a lovely lesson about letting go and it is bringing me much joy. 

So, when do you let go and when do you follow your arrow?  Simple, you follow your arrow when it is focused on your own personal growth, never at the expense of someone else.  When the arrow is attached to grace, to kindness and to peace, you follow it.   You let go when the arrow is attached to someone else’s battle or struggle.  The kindest thing you can do is to walk away and wish them well.  Maybe family, maybe friends or maybe someone you care for deeply but it’s simply ‘not yours’.  That phrase has helped me tremendously these past few years: “ it’s not mine.” 

Doesn’t mean that I don’t care. 

 I’ve been dancing around what I plan to do with my “Quest” to climb Kili.  I’m neither a photographer nor a videographer.   What I am, is an observer.  I’m a storyteller.  For nearly ten years I wrote music and told stories.  It was the most humiliating and scary thing I’ve ever done.  I have been watching people for my entire life and I can quickly click into the emotion, the fumes of people’s lives.  It feeds me.  It is something that offers me satiation beyond words. 

My plan is to film this trek.  I have an eye for composition and structure and I’ll lean on that.  I have some ideas of stories that hold interest for me but more importantly I want to stay open to the fact I have no idea what will happen.  I want to make a documentary about this.  This isn’t a professional project, this is a personal one.  It may be a project that’s only audience is my family and friends.  I can get lost in editing and creating a story to watch.  I started doing it with my friend Stella as well as some relay runs I’ve been apart of over the years. 

But this… this is a whole other ball game.  This is me learning Final Cut Pro.  This is me learning to use an elite HD camera and all that comes with that.  This is me being my own Project Manager for a 9 day Trek to the highest freestanding mountain on the planet.  I have to navigate power, memory cards, notes, my own health and wellness – all while being present enough to enjoy and take heed of something that will change me forever. 

 So, yes, I’m a Sagittarius. To a fault. 

Facts & Getting Ready…

I’ve been collecting some fun facts recently as I do research.   So I thought I’d share them:

·      Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

·      Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Mawenzi, Shira and Kibo. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, the highest peak, is dormant and could erupt again. The most recent activity was about 200 years ago; the last major eruption was 360,000 years ago.

·      Nearly every climber who has summitted Uhuru Peak, the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim, has recorded his or her thoughts about the accomplishment in a book stored in a wooden box at the top.

·      The oldest person ever to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro was 87-year-old Frenchman Valtee Daniel.

·      Almost every kind of ecological system is found on the mountain: cultivated land, rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and an arctic summit.

·      The fasted verified ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro occurred in 2001 when Italian Bruno Brunod summitted Uhuru Peak in 5 hours 38 minutes 40 seconds. The fastest roundtrip was accomplished in 2004, when local guide Simon Mtuy went up and down the mountain in 8:27.  Crazy!!

·      The mountain’s snow caps are diminishing, having lost more than 80 percent of their mass since 1912. In fact, they may be completely ice free within the next 20 years, according to scientists.  The Glaciers are actually sublimating, meaning they change directly from the solid to the gaseous state without becoming liquid.

I’m 46 years old (soon to be 47!) so my training for this is a combination of different things, mixing cardio with weight training for my legs.  I can tell you that my body is reacting differently than it has in the past and it takes longer to see the needle move.  However my mind is stronger and my “will” more determined that ever, a strange turn of events.  The universe has a fucked up sense of humor.  I have a friend that is a nutritionist and is going to help me with my diet for this event.  I’m going to take this opportunity to switch gears with my diet and my exercise routine so that my health will continue to benefit from this event, long after I’ve returned. (I’ll let you know what I find out)  I’ve always been a wise consumer of what goes into my body (thanks mom), but tweaking it will be fun to learn and adjust.  Lastly, is my mental state.  I have spent the last few years feeling a deep resolve of change happening to my mental state and well being.  I am determined to drop into “this” and see where my inner work will take me.  I started my life on this planet being insanely quiet as a child and observing the world around me.  I somehow found myself in my late 20’s as a performer, playing music and traveling for 10 years.  I left that profession for numerous reasons but the main one being that I came to realize, I am a very private person. I’m finding myself going back to that place I started and wanting to meditate and observe.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to laugh and have a heroic appreciation for sharp wit and a gut wrenching belly laugh!  I just think I’d like to listen more and learn to be quiet when I’m nervous or anxious.   I wish for a calmness and I feel it coming my way.  Maybe that is why observing and telling this story is so important to me.  

In the long run, the story I want to tell, isn’t even about me.

Instagram & Snapshots

I’m an “Instagramer.”

I love this application.  I must say that since using this tool I rarely post anything on Facebook, and when I do, it’s usually via this app.  It’s like receiving postcards from your friends everyday, in their everyday lives. They aren’t necessarily on vacation, they could be going to the market to pick up eggs, or driving to work – but something makes them capture a snapshot and share it.  Sometimes there is no caption, there doesn’t need to be.  It’s just remarkable how these imagines can affect me.

I remember being small and loving slide shows my family would have.  We would gather in the fancy living room, the big white screen would zip up, the carousel would dance around and slides drop into their time on the bright stage of the projector.  Popcorn would be made and we would relive our daily lives laughing so hard we would cry.  Retelling stories over and over again, continuing to laugh and cry without ever growing tired of them.  

Images can bring such strong emotions to the surface.  Sure, sometimes you see things you don’t want to see.  I remember when September 11th happened and the imagines of people jumping out of the twin towers were scattered everywhere.  I recall seeing those images and thinking I was watching such a private moment, when someone’s life ended.  I felt so intrusive.  It still troubles me to this day and I cry thinking about it.  We’ve all seen Dorothea Lang’s photos and are familiar with what those imagines provoked in all of us.  Photographs say so very much without saying anything at all.  They trigger memories, a gamut of emotions (often too many at once), and for me inspiration.  

When my friend Avery posted a photo on Instagram, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was elated.  I had just been talking about doing this with my friends and ‘bam’ here was a friend that had literally just done it.  {This is where my previous blog regarding ‘timing’ makes a guest appearance}.  I asked her to show me her photos and well, that was it … I was smitten.  I knew I had to go.  Seeing photos that someone you know takes, makes everything that much closer and tangible (for better or for worse).  

By the way, there is a movement of people that are traveling adventurists, and that post their photos on Instagram.  If you haven’t taken the dive into this fun app, you should.  The world is a beautiful place to share with one another through snapshots.  

 

 

 

 

 

Timing

I have a strange relationship with timing. 

It seems almost funny since I play an instrument.  I guess by that, I mean, you think I’d be a bit more savvy regarding this topic.  I have found myself so intently focusing on one thing, or controlling another that I missed something far more magical that was falling right in my lap.  We’ve all done it, so that gives me comfort.  As I’ve grown older I decided to learn more about letting things unravel and paying attention to the things on the sidelines .  The universe is insanely quiet.  This has brought me much joy and quiet appreciation.  No one cheers or claps, I just know and that, that is enough.    

The other thing that I’ve come to learn about myself and really adore about my nature is, I live from my heart not my head.  Sure, this has brought some asinine heartbreak but it also gave me glorious love.  So, with wisdom, I’m attempting to hone the skill (still a work in progress) of living from my heart and checking in with my head.  This is something about myself I never want to change and the only frustration, is when I get close to those who live mainly from their head.  One of my best friends is 8 years old, her name is Stella.  When Stella was 5 years old she was on a plane with her mom, looking out the window.  She turned and said “Mom, when I listen with my heart, my head got nicer!”  That’s one of the many reasons we’re friends.  That, and she likes macaroni & cheese.  

 When I hit my 40’s I did the thing many people do, and did some life inventory.  Meaning, I stressed myself out.  What was I doing?  Where was I heading? Would my life matter?  My 8 year committed relationship ended with the person I bought a house and a dog with.  I’m working for Starbucks in a job that I thought was only a transition while I figured out what I really wanted to do.  I took the job at Starbucks because I needed insurance.  My mom and my younger sister had been diagnosed with cancer and I was scared.  Now after some difficult growing pains, I have the house and we have joint custody of the most adorable dog, Chuy.  And, I still work for Starbucks.

Here’s what I do know for certain : sometimes you don’t make your life, it makes you. 

So, when I find myself focusing so ‘heady’ on something I stop and breathe.  When something seems dangerous or unhealthy for me, I let go (oh, and I continue to grind over it!).  I give myself enough space and I begin to take inventory of all the quiet things that are simply beautiful.  I look back on my life and revel in the fact, that it

just

keeps

getting

better. 

This past year I hired a life coach (Dawn Greaney) who helped me listen to what really matters to me.  People matter to me.   I had been worried about finding a new career, when I realize that after 10 years of working for Starbucks, I have an opportunity to take a sabbatical for up to a year  (unpaid, but my benefits will remain intact and my job will be waiting for me).  I hit my 10-year mark on May 12, 2013.  My trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro is  August 5, 2013.  

I gotta say… that’s not bad timing.  

The Beginning

Some things are just “on your list.”

You haven’t written them down, and you may not have told anyone … they’re just in your soul.  You simply know you need to do it.  Perhaps it’s going back to school, writing a book, learning Italian or moving to another country.  For me one of these things is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I’m not sure why, it just ‘is’.  

So, when some friends who were running across Colorado in a relay event I was a part of, invited me in passing, I jumped on it.  I’ve traveled alone a lot recently over the past decade, and while there is tremendous pleasure in doing something alone, I knew this was something I would like to share with people I know.  My friends Tracy and Katy are doing it with their mom in August of 2013 and I intend to join them.  

This blog is to keep my inspiration intact.  To create momentum and excitement for me and my community, you!  This is a story of ‘doing’ of ‘living’ and choosing to engage with life.  I am going to attempt to gain some type of aid or sponsorship for this trip.  I intend to tell you all my struggles and successes in hopes that, something I do can help you, inspire you to take the bull by the horns and have a serious make out session with the dangerous, sexy beast.  There is nothing in this world we can’t do if we put our mind to it.  Trouble is, sometimes we don’t know what we want to do.  We have First World problems, don’t we?  

I want to tell a story.  Truth is, at least 2 stories will be told – the one I intend to tell and the one I have no idea of.  That makes my entire being quiver!  There will be 4 of us if everything pans out.    My hope is that you will check in and read, watch short clips, view photos, laugh, cry, cheer and revel in what is about to happen for the 4 of us.  

This is my quest for Kilimanjaro and I invite you to join.