Giving Back

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Like everyone else old enough to remember, I know exactly where I was on the 11th of September 2001. I was sitting on hall duty in Farmingdale High School, New York when the first of a few letters was delivered. Like everyone else who tried to get through, I found the mobile phone lines weren’t working. Kids were pulled out of class, teachers rode the busses with elementary school kids and we all sat in silence for hours glued to the television. Later, I found out that my sister, who traveled on the subway through the Twin Towers station every morning had made it through and a co-worker of hers provided shelter on Staten Island for the next few days. My Dad was in Europe at the time and eventually, through the kindness of strangers, coworkers and embassies made it home from Belgium a few days later. In the years since, at school, we had no morning announcements aside from a moving tribute coupled with a talented singer serenading the school with the chorus of Sarah McLachlan’s, I Will Remember You.

9/11 Day of Service - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

I’m no longer teaching and presently live on the opposite coast, but like millions of others, those moments stick with me and it’s days like this that, no matter where I am, I will ALWAYS be a New Yorker. Fifteen years later, my husband and I honored this solemn day in a different way. This year, I found myself back on a school campus volunteering with The Mission Continues to give back to a local high school community in San Diego.

This was our fourth time volunteering with The Mission Continues. This service organization invites veterans and civilians to give back, and “empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact.” (missioncontinues) On Saturday, the 10th of September, approximately 100 volunteers met in San Diego. ROTC members, school groups, Team Rubicon members, Fox Sports, BAE Systems, Junior Marines and others, joined The Mission Continues’ volunteers in a  9-11 day of service uniting volunteers around the country in a day of honor, remembrance and service.

volunteering at The Mission Continues - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

At San Diego’s Herbert Hoover High School, volunteers worked for hours on a myriad of projects around the school. Large scale murals were created, fire lines got repainted, recognizable school signs were refurbished, an ADA compliant ramp was added to a communal space, life sized games were created for an after school program, brand new picnic tables and pavers were designed and added to a school gathering area and much more was accomplished in a few short hours.

More often than not on these volunteer days you can find Mat building or working in a garden – today it was both. Building picnic tables, creating new space for and adding brand new pavers, he got to work alongside amazing veterans to benefit this 2,000 student high school. In the beginning, you can usually find me at the registration table greeting volunteers, creating name tags, handing out waivers and of course, giving out t-shirts. It’s always a great way to get to know people, provide a first smile and start their day off right. And then, I often help to hand out lunch and typically wind up covered in paint. This time was no different. Needless to say, we always leave tired, dirty, and filled with joy.

Pavers in process - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

As volunteers split up into project groups, work was dispersed, people found their way, and conversations happened. I met another displaced New Yorker who now volunteers as a coordinator for the Young Marines and also works with the homeless population in downtown San Diego. I watched as veteran volunteers smashed concrete to carve out a space for a new access ramp. Countless people, civilian and veteran alike, rolled up their sleeves to do the necessary work. The benefits of the work here today will ricochet for countless students, faculty, staff and community members to enjoy for years to come. Finding purpose, feeling needed, using skills, communicating with others, working as a team – by helping others, the return is tenfold.

After they finished with their first job, a small group of kids from the school’s AOIT (Academy of Information Technology) program returned to look for something else to do. With that small gesture, I already knew we’d get along quite well. They rolled up their sleeves and together we came up with a design for the new pavers. For this teacher/advisor, it felt natural to be working with teenagers again. They were thrilled to work with volunteers (veterans and civilians) and quickly joined in the mission. Not only did they take ownership of their task, but they got to learn to splatter paint for the first time ever….now that’s a crafty creative skill that keeps on giving, right? We even went so far as to add little bird footprints (their mascot is a cardinal) reminding me of the lion paw prints I drew all those years ago at Farmingdale High School. This day brought me full circle for so many reasons.

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Volunteering with The Mission Continues has become a part of our journey in San Diego. We look forward to ‘build days’, as it reminds us of all of the volunteering we did together in Long Beach, New York after Hurricane Sandy. The people met, stories shared, work done, differences made and relationships fostered remain in a fabulous memory bank forever. Finding home wherever we roam is significant. Spending the day giving back to a community, making a difference in the lives of kids and working with incredible people – that’s only a small piece of what The Mission Continues gave us today and at each of our ‘build days’. Join the movement…see you at the next event.

 

The aftermath of adventure…returning home

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Sapphire Pool - National Parks - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

Travel. A gift, choice, calling, vice – whatever you call it….when one travel journey comes to an end…it affects you. Our most recent long travel adventure took us across two continents, three countries, seeing friends and two sets of family, planes, trains, trucks and automobiles, a cross country road trip and over two months of travel. Then it ended. Don’t get me wrong…being ‘stuck’ in sunny San Diego, is no place anyone would ever use the term ‘stuck’ – nevertheless, a journey that took months to plan and weeks to execute, was over. Read the rest of this entry

Growing through change

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Have you ever had one of those experiences where you’ve been fully changed? Something experienced, transpired, or happened and on the inside, you no longer feel like the same person, yet on the outside, to the world at large, you’re still you? It feels so obvious to you yet this new you is foreign to those around you. It seems you now react differently, respond differently, make different choices and have different insights to the same old questions or actions of those you’re around. To you, these changes seem positive – almost as if you can’t imagine going back to the way things were – but to others in your life who can not understand what’s happened, they’re frustrated. What happens now? Read the rest of this entry

Learn Things

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Learn things...thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

Mat and I don’t watch a lot of shows – we don’t even have a television. Of the few we try to catch, one that often brings a smile is NCIS New Orleans®. Scott Bakula’s lead character sends his agents out into the city to, as he says,  ‘learn things’. We seem to have adapted this idea to our life, and no matter the situation, that has become a goal. Perhaps all of our travel together has had that as a backstory, but it is quite apparent these days in life in San Diego. It’s been a year and a half in a new city, with new career goals, new people, and new adventures and ‘learn things’ has become a constant. Read the rest of this entry

Remembering Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Candy Man

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Thanks, Mr. Wonka - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

“We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams” – Willy Wonka

Charlie Bucket, Violet Beauregarde, Augustus Gloop, Mike Teevee, Veruca Salt and Willy Wonka are a part of my childhood. When their names appear, story lines get quoted or a mysterious meme crosses my social media feed featuring any one of them, I smile. This week the world lost a giant, but nothing can stop the flood of memories. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory® wasn’t just a movie – it’s colourful depictions, quirky Candy Man and land of imagination taught us more about life than it did about chocolate. What did Willy Wonka teach you? Read the rest of this entry

Mindfulness on the road

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Mindfulness on the road - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

Recently I’ve found myself in the library in the mindfulness section. Call it the yoga addiction or the easy access to meditation and mindfulness gurus, but the mindfulness connection has taken off with me. What about you?

“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thought; it’s to stop letting them control you.” -Unknown

I can’t even tell you when the first time was that I heard the word, mindful. I imagine it’s been floated around for years, and perhaps, like so many other things, it begins to penetrate when you need it most. And as with everything in life – things change. When I began my yoga journey seven years ago, I was looking for something to feel good, not hurt my back and an exercise that my little asthmatic lungs could handle. I didn’t much enjoy the meditation portion or the yogic philosophy or listening to anyone talk about chakras, healing ways, aromatherapy or any sort of sutras. Today, I crave it. I miss my Wednesday yoga therapy classes with Kellie and Friday meditations with Sarah at the old studio. But, as with everything in life, I’m in search of something new – something more. Read the rest of this entry

If those yearbooks could talk…

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I wonder what they'd say...thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

Remember them? Remember the agony of choosing the appropriate quote to go under your senior photo in that high school yearbook? I recall hours of searching movie lines, lyrics and quotes to find one that I thought worked best. And then there was that question that would accompany your photo…’where do you see yourself in ten years’? Seriously? How on earth could I know that answer at seventeen years old and would there be any possibility it would be true in a decade? I certainly couldn’t foresee a teaching career and full on career change, a love of travel, life on two coasts, freelancing or a spouse from the other side of the world. Read the rest of this entry

From all change…growth

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yoga studio - East Village, San Diego - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

We’ve now been in San Diego for 18 months. In all that time, I’ve been a member of a downtown yoga studio in the East Village. It’s changed names and ownership, but the community has remained constant, strong and vibrant. On Friday, my yoga studio is closing its doors. It’s a bit sad. Read the rest of this entry

Growth, travel and pizza

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I have a friend who is known in her circle of friends as the ‘Pizza Expert’. She leads tours of ‘the best pizza’ in Brooklyn, runs races where the prize is a slice, sports a pizza costume on Halloween and has now developed a ‘pizza crawl’ around New York City. I have a feeling she’d ditch me as a friend if I admitted to not absolutely loving traditional pizza – well, now it’s out there. I know, I know – how can I be from New York and not love pizza? For that, I don’t have an answer, but I can tell you I married a guy who feels the same. And yet, over our own homemade ‘pizza’ dinner the other night, somehow we wound up comparing pizza to travel. Some things rarely make sense.

Cheesy Flatbread from Food Network's® The Neeleys - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com Read the rest of this entry

Where are you heading?

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Where are you headed? - Wyoming, USA - thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com

I’m a huge fan of The West Wing. With quick-witted banter, social implications of governing and a nod to smart people, Josiah Bartlett and his team kept me interested season after season. I often felt his mantra, ‘what’s next’, was similar to my life. When one holiday/vacation finished, I asked, ‘what’s next’? When one school event was planned with another on the back burner, I asked, ‘what’s next?’ And more often than not, in my analytical brain, I would ask myself the very same question, ‘what’s next’? For me, it was more, where am I heading, what’s to come, where do I want to go or be or even what is it I wish to accomplish. Although the question was a constant, the fluid thought process yielded a constantly changing answer. Where was I heading? Read the rest of this entry