Monday, June 30, 2008

Evening Walk Photo

I'm psyched to have been featured in the Jersey City Register!

Now, all the more inspiration to keep snapping pictures around my new neighborhood.

Here's a furry friend Othello met on his walk today. If the owners of this photogenic pooch happen to find my blog (I told them the URL), let me know!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy photo to start the week

Congrats to our friends, Jon and Joanne, on their beautiful family!

I was delighted to be part of the celebration of Jonas' christening today, and I'm looking forward to watching him grow up, like his sister, Julia.


Evening Walk in Jersey City Heights

I took a long walk with Othello last night through our great new neighborhood of Jersey City Heights. What I absolutely love about this place is the diversity - there is an abundance of different kinds of architecture and residents from all over the world.

Here are some highlights:

Street scene



View of NYC from Riverview-Fiske Park

Facing the park

Community garden


One of the many stray cats stands its ground against Othello

Jersey City dogs

A private garden

Latin American flavor
Local dining

Old-school houses

The actual public school

Sherman Place details

This is such a fantastic place to photograph! Stay tuned for more pictures of this fascinating place.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dreams and Goals

Michael is off in Bermuda now, living his sailing dreams. Meanwhile, Othello and I are beating the heat inside the house.
With Boris off living his own dream of sheep herding this weekend, I'm going to have to make sure I wear Othello out good this evening. Hopefully, a nice, long walk will ensure a sleep-filled night!

Othello is awfully sleepy now; hopefully, that doesn't mean he's gearing up for a long night of guarding.

Anyway, this summer, as it has turned out, has been one of separate dreams. Michael has had a lot of sailing opportunities, and we haven't been able to take time off together. That's why I will be traveling to Mexico by myself next month (much more on that later!).

So a few nights ago, we started talking about 2009 and tentatively planning our trips out, so we can spend most of our days off together...and we can do all sorts of cool stuff!

Here are initial dreams/goals for 2009:

  • Key West - we both have been itching to go back since we took a long weekend there last year.
  • Berlin/Bamberg - even though love for the German language is one of the big things we have in common, we have never been to Germany together! I want to show Michael my Berlin, and he wants to show me his Bamberg. We'll also get to see friends and use those rusty German-speaking muscles.
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia - Michael plans on doing the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, and he would like to show me his beloved Halifax at the end of the race.
  • Some place exotic! We don't know yet where that will be, but we want to take a week to discover some place very new and different for us.
  • New Year's in another country

We can't go around the world, but this is a pretty good substitute! We'll keep our careers, get to go to places we really love, and discover new adventures together. It's important we do this before we settle down.

Michael's developed some bigger picture goals for the future, but I'm still working on mine. For now, knowing that we have some concrete travel plans for next year reassures me that I will still be following my travel dream.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mr. Othello

I'm down at a conference right now, but check out what Rebecca wrote about our dog, Othello!

It's good to see Othello taking on a mentoring role! Just like his mom likes to do!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


This has been a great weekend so far! Unfortunately, the fun will be ending shortly, as I have to leave for a business trip shortly. However, I'm very happy for what I did get.

Friday night, Michael and I went to Hoboken for dinner. We walked past the places where we used to live, and dined al fresco at Anthony David's. That was the first time we had been there since the night Michael proposed, back in August 2006. This time we didn't make the mistake of ordering a cheese platter, appetizers, then entrees! Back then, we were so stuffed that we almost didn't make it out to the pier, overlooking New York City, where Michael asked for my hand.

Instead, we had a plate of four cheeses: Rocchetta, Vento d'Estate, Crottin de Chavignol, and Aged Gouda. Sooo good! And Michael had the Maine Lobster with gnocchi, and I had Truffle Risotto - so rich, I couldn't even finish. It was complemented by a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, left behind by my parents from Easter. The wine and meal were truly divine!

Michael had been away much of the month because of sailing, so it was the first weekend we had together in a while. After our dinner, we took a long walk with Othello through our neighborhood. The Jersey City Heights are really a fascinating place. There are so many different kinds of houses. I plan on taking pictures and giving you all a virtual tour of some of my favorites. Stay tuned!

Yesterday, we had breakfast at a place called Tommy's Family Restaurant. This is a tiny diner on the main drag, where the family atmosphere is truly authentic. We witnessed arguments, sass, and teenage-like rebellion between the workers. Unfortunately, because our waitress was trying to prove a point to her boss (who may or may not have been related to her), our plates sat about five minutes before being delivered to our table. At least the food was good, though not quite as hot as we'd like, for obvious reasons.

Then we did a multitude of errands, including finally donating bags of clothing and books that had been sitting in the trunk of the car since we'd moved, getting some things at Macy's and Target, and doing our first supermarket run since maybe the end of April! It's been that crazy since moving time. We completely loaded up at our favorite place, Trader Joe's.

When we finally got home, we hung out with our lovely neighbors, Rebecca and Kola, who had been taking care of Othello while we were gone. He and Boris have really hit it off. Can I say how GREAT it is to have wonderful next door neighbors? This is the first time I have really talked to neighbors since I lived in Germany, which is now over six years ago!

The last place we lived, in Union City, was particularly bad because no one spoke English, and everyone very much kept to themselves. I have no idea how many people lived in that building and certainly no idea if all of them were in the US legally.

The community I enjoyed with my neighbors in Berlin was the best thing about my time over there. It is something that I have missed greatly ever since I left. I am really excited that one of the changes of this year is this new community.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Meet Nikki...

I have gotten a number of compliments on the look of my blog, so I wanted to do a feature on the young woman who is responsible for the artistic design.

Nikki Cochrane is the kind of person I wish I could have been at 19. The Canadian university student is a successful entrepreneur; she is a philanthropist; and she is helping change people's more ways than one.

Nikki runs Blogs for a Cause, her own service through which she graphically designs blogs to raise money for her own volunteer travels and for established nonprofits.

Although she is raising money for charity, Nikki is in the business of giving new life to people's personal words. Like a journal maker, she creates the cover and the pages that entice the writer to put forth her thoughts, experiences, and dreams. And like that journal maker, the outward aesthetic details she creates lure the reader to pick up the piece and delve into its entries.

How does she do it? Nikki starts with a plain-jane Blogspot layout and creates something magical for her patrons. Using a scrapbooking-like format, Nikki takes internet store-bought graphics and mixes them with photos that hold special meaning for the blogger. Her result is simply a personalized header and an eye-catching background. However, the end effect is something akin to Cinderella's transformation.

With their redesigned blogs, Nikki's patrons go forth with new confidence. Even if they are not completely sure that their words will find resonance, their blogs look the part of something worth reading. The beauty and personal significance of the page keep drawing them back, and they write, and start to find their voice.


It's hard to believe, but Nikki only started blogging just over a year ago. She was looking for a place to put a story she was writing about a little girl in Ethiopia.

"Soon," she says, "People adopting from Ethiopia came across my blog, and I first started reading the blogs that other people were writing. Even now, most of these blogs are about adoption, or people doing volunteer work around the world. I quickly switched to my current blog ( as I wanted to branch out from blogging just about my writing, and include more about myself and my interests."

The turning point was last summer, when she went to volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Nikki had been looking to do some kind of trip after she graduated from high school and before she went to University. After seeing a presentation at her school, Nikki felt drawn to take part in a program called Hero Holiday.

Although she initially knew very little about what she was getting herself into, the Dominican Republic wound up having an immense impact on her.

"I know not many people my age can say that they have had a turning point in their life, but my time spent volunteering in the DR was mine. The people will be forever in my heart. Despite the poverty they live in, they are vibrant, caring, and so loving. The moment I walked into my front door after coming home, I broke down in tears. I missed each and every person I met so much that it pained me."

In the Dominican Republic, Nikki helped build a school, distribute supplies, and work with children living in extreme poverty. One person made the experience especially real for Nikki.

"There is one little girl in particular who captured my heart. Her name is Frangelis and she will be 7 years old this summer. She lives in a small house with her mother and two siblings and attends the school that I helped to build. We formed an incredibly tight bond while I was there. When I was leaving, we both hugged each other crying and when I went to put her down, she wrapped her arms around my neck and wouldn’t let go. Her mother had to come and pull her off me, and it just broke my heart. She taught me was true happiness is, and how to find enjoyment in the simple things in life. She is amazing."

After Nikki came home last summer, she knew she had to return. However, how was she going to afford the $3500 cost as a University student? "I knew I had to do something huge in order to raise this money," she relates. "By that point, I was blogging regularly and got so tired of the boring Blogspot templates. I noticed a few blogs I read had some fun designs, and so I searched the web to teach myself how to do this. After many (many!) hours of learning, Blogs for a Cause was created."

Through this website, Nikki has now stylized close to 350 blogs. She has raised the entire amount needed for her to go back to the Dominican Republic this summer and some extra for a future trip. Because she donates $5 of the $20 fee per blog to different charities, she has also raised over $2000 for organizations such as Kiva, His Hands for Haiti, and Mayan Families.

Nikki just finished her first year at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where she is studying cultural anthropology. Her dream is to work at a company that deals with children living in poverty. If that does not work out, she would perhaps want to be an elementary school teacher.

I asked Nikki what one accomplishment would mean the most for her to achieve in her lifetime?

"It is hard to put my finger on just one thing. I know that I want to continue travelling and volunteering, and in particular, I would like to go to Ethiopia , Haiti , and India. I would love nothing more than to meet my sweet 11-year old sponsor child, Tsehay, in Ethiopia, so I am hoping that I am able to find a contact to help me organize this trip for the summer of 2009. I would also love to adopt a child one day. I know I am several years away from the time that I will be having children, but I love reading adoption blogs and think that it is truly amazing. I would love to have a large, multiracial family where my children grow up being educated on cultures and poverty around the world, and the role they can play in putting an end to poverty."

Through her blog, Nikki has introduced me to all sorts of inspirational people living these types of dreams that I never would have come across otherwise. In her volunteer work, her blogging, and her special way of fundraising - in so many ways, Nikki is on the road to being the change she wants to see in the world. I can't wait to see what this girl is going to do next!

Catching the blogging wave

So I've been talking a lot about blogging with people I know. In fact, I showed three people the past few days how easy it is to make a blog. And it's catching on!

Here are some new blogs written by friends of mine:

K's Apartment - Kristine's adventures in New York and fabulous food

Life with Boris - Our next door neighbor, Rebecca, writes about her lovable German Shepherd Boris

I'm going to eventually have to post some pictures of our dog, Othello! He's hard to photograph, though, being solid black. Usually he looks like a black splotch with glowing eyes.

Have a great day, everyone!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, Dad! I'm glad you're living your dream right now, and I can't wait to hear about your adventures once you get back.


My Blogging Role Model

When we first sponsored our Guatemalan kids, Juana and Candelaria, we found out they have a younger sister, Maritza, who is sponsored by a woman named Tricia. I got to know Tricia online a few months ago, as we were trying to figure out what we could do to help the family together. As it turns out, Tricia has a blog called Sisterly Shenanigans, which I started to read religiously.

Reading her blog was partially what inspired me to have my own. And it certainly is what I strive for mine to achieve. What I love about Tricia's blog is its heart and candor. She celebrates the beauty, wonder, and fun of life, and she is always striving to do good.

Tricia started her blog in July 2006, so she could document her journey towards adopting her Guatemalan daughter, Sofia. Her blog caught on fast, and before she knew it, she had a large readership and a collection of "strangerfriends," as she calls them - "incredible people" she has met along the way.

What does she try to achieve? "My blog is cheap therapy for myself," she says. "Plus it was/is a simple and effective way to keep my friends and family scattered throughout the US and Canada informed and up-to-date on our family in Virginia. I also try to utilize my blog to spread the word about international and domestic adoption, Guatemala, orphans, and opportunities to help others in need."

Tricia's latest project is throwing a Christmas party for an orphanage in San Andres, Guatemala. The children at this institution are unadoptable because they do not have a relative who could sign the adoption papers. Therefore, they must stay in the orphanage until they are 16 years old and released into society.

"I became aware of the orphanage in San Andres through mutual friends of the director," Tricia recounts. The children were not going to have any sort of Christmas celebration unless they received outside help. "I immediately knew that the orphanage's needs were great, but our ability to help was greater!"

As an events professional, she says, "I strive to be the ultimate party planner - both professionally and personally - and I think EVERYONE deserves a Christmas. Pretty simple."

Tricia announced the fundraising drive a week ago, and already, her blog readers have responded with over $1600 to make the Christmas party possible. Tricia will be documenting the party through her blog, so everyone who can't be there will be able to see all the details.

I asked Tricia what her dream party would be, and she said, "[It] would involve happy children surrounded by love and overwhelmed with happiness. Not to mention a moonbouce, petting zoo, face painting, games, streamers & balloons, pinatas, lots of food, gifts, candy, an appearance by Oprah because I love her, and shoes, clothes, medicine, art supplies & books for the orphanage."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Content in the works

Just a heads up that I've got some great features in the works that will be coming soon to this blog. You'll be getting the scoop on some of the people that inspire me, some amazing projects that are underway to make a difference, and what you can do to help!

I've just added an RSS feed button and an email subscription form. Sign up and don't miss a post!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Greg!

My baby brother is turning 30 today! I can't believe where the time has gone. I still remember being little kids, living in Woodbury, and playing in the backyard. You were my best friend. So much has changed, and now you live so far away. Even if I can't be there in person, I wish you the best birthday ever and a wonderful start to the next phase of your life. You absolutely deserve it.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Guatemala Trip Roundup

I took advantage of the heat this weekend, and just stayed indoors blogging! Here is a handy reference to all of my Guatemala entries:

Mayan Families-related travelogue:

Photos and some commentary:

If you've been inspired to get involved, please check out the Mayan Families website! There are many ways to help, and this group is a lot of fun.

If you now want to plan a trip to Guatemala, I'd highly recommend it! Check out TripAdvisor for help in planning, or leave me a comment with your email address if you have any questions for me.

Thanks for reading!

Antigua in Pictures

Our time in Antigua was very quick, but we made the most of it. Here are some of my favorite images. La Merced church

Casa Santo Domingo

Reserva Natural Atitlan

We spent the morning of our last day in Panajachel exploring the Reserva Natural Atitlan just up the road from Hotel Atitlan. We didn't have time for the zip line tour, but we certainly saw a lot on our own in the nature reserve.

We saw monkeys up close!

We got to play Indiana Jones on a hanging bridge.

There was a waterfall.

Michael did some climbing.

And we returned to Hotel Atitlan to check out.

Good morning, Hotel Atitlan!

We woke up to a beautiful morning our last day in Panajachel. So we took the time to explore the grounds once more, this time camera firmly in hand.

Helicopter landing pad - we saw a helicopter coming in, presumably bringing guests for that night's wedding!

Saturday brunch in the hotel restaurant:
View of the lake and the volcano - still clouded over:

Michael with one of the house Shih-tzus.