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    Lifestyle, Travel

    My September Issue. Manifesting the Life of My Dreams

    September. The most beautiful month. New York City was cooling down just enough to make it tolerable and fashion week was getting ready to kick my butt for another season.

    For as long as I could remember I had been constantly chasing, something. A boy, a new job, a distant place, swallowed in my hopes for a dream life and internal happiness. I’d have meetings with others that I thought had what I was looking for. Then, somewhere between daily yoga, an exciting career, 5:30 a.m. runs and the decision to stop giving a fuck, I found me, just a little. I had been drowning in a situation I so desperately wanted to change but it just wouldn’t change for me, I let go. September.

    My mornings consisted of a trail run, home, dog walk, dress and drive 45 minutes to the train, a laugh with the sweet African man that worked where I parked my car, 15 minute train ride and 15 minutes walking upstream in a sea of city dwellers and commuters to my Flatiron 5th Ave office. My job as a production assistant for a small but incredibly wonderful fashion production company was exciting, fulfilling and in the opposite direction of my hope to work in writing and human rights, but I was happy. My bosses were two fantastic individuals who kept me excited and laughing. I had a fashionista’s dream, working backstage at fashion week for major designers, mingling at events with top movers and shakers in the business and flying to Paris for fashion week twice a year. And in my down time, I volunteered with an anti-trafficking organization who was rallying and actively rehabilitating girls who had been trafficked for sex in South East Asia ( I know, I know… two completely different worlds.) This was where my passion and my heart felt it was doing the right work for the right reasons.

    And then, like a shock to my heart and my plans, that thing I was slowly trying to change, let go of me. I felt confused but free. My girlfriends would text me and tell me it was time for me to leave this home and go see the world. Travel, write, explore and find myself even deeper. I spent my time after work exploring opportunities in anti-trafficking organizations abroad. I’d put an open search in idealist.org and fill in the location as, Africa or Asia. I needed to go, but where?

    A month later, that exciting and fulfilling fashion job, let me go. Not because they didn’t love me, but because they needed to and I guess, I needed them to also. The next day I had an email back from an organization in Ghana I had reached out to. By chance, the founder was looking to write a book and needed a ghost-writer. We skyped, our excitement jumping through the screen. But was I really ready to cross an ocean to chase my dream work?

    2 weeks after my job let me go, my roommates decided they wanted their own place. I was jobless, dumped, and had to move out of my apartment. But, I was happy. All of these things, as they came crumbling down, they didn’t shake me. I embraced them, and slowly realized, I had actually manifested this entire situation. The following week I was on the train to Washington D.C. to meet with the organization funding the book idea in Ghana and quickly following that, I got the offer.

    I don’t really think I had a choice, during my September issue. Perhaps that is why it felt so right, there was no weight. And now I know, that this manifestation of mine was completely driven by fate, something I never believed in. I was a huge cynic with the whole, love at first sight, find your destiny, business. I thought it was only about persistence and hard work, which is surely part of it, but there is a huge component in letting go and trusting.

    On December 31st, 2012, I flew through the night and landed in Ghana in a new year and new life.

    This story, a long one full of love, hope, happiness, tragedy and lots and lots of testing, is something I never dreamed could be real. But it is. It is my life. And I am so damn lucky. And now, 5 years later, as I feel a bit stuck again,  it is time for me to open up, believe and take some guidance from where the universe is pushing me. This time, I have some wonderful companions, my husband, daughter and all of you, along for the ride.

    There are stories to be told, places to be seen and a lot of letting go to do. So… here we go!!

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    Family, Lifestyle, Travel

    The Sling Diaries VII: Memory

    Jackie- logic. It is a phrase coined by my two dearest friends who hold the stories to some of my wildest times, some that only they will be able to replay as memories and will never be said out loud, hopefully. Jackie-logic is an idea, thought or suggestion, usually followed by action, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but typically turns out quite wonderfully. For example: renting a car in Thailand, leaving our passports behind as a security deposit and touring Northern Thailand with just a map, making pit stops at caves and waterfalls, off roading into unknown towns and pulling over to take a ride on an elephant with some strangers. Or, the time where I saw a photo of a hot tub in the snow, nestled in the Swiss Alps and had to go check it out in real life. A train, a bus, a hike and a gondola ride later, it was everything I dreamed of.

    I’ve always felt that life was really for LIVING and perhaps I have tamed a bit in the last few years, but that wild heart still exists. Recently I decided to get transport directly to and from the airport in Cancun to our apartment in Tulum rather than rent a car and I felt like I didn’t even know myself anymore. I always go for the car rental so I can do my own touring but I was going for convenience this time. I am trying to hold onto this logic, these ideas that have created so many wonderful memories while also trying to be a mother, a wife and the maker of decisions for the entire family. In all of this I am trying to still be me which is a practice that takes time and effort and the occasional bad but good idea.

    You may call me stubborn, I know my husband would, when it comes to how passionately I feel about an idea that will take us on a wild ride or create a memory. I have the art of being able to research the hell out of things, digging deep and weighing the pros and cons, then not listening to the cons at all. And I especially do not listen to the people around me who may have suggestions.

    This logic, it isn’t always completely crazy. Sometimes it is just a little voice in the background questioning, pushing and wanting    to know and learn more. The most recent experience I have had with this, the greatest memory yet, was when I decided that at 32 weeks I was going to switch my doctor and forgo a hospital birth to have my daughter at home. Wild and crazy? Nope! To me the wild and crazy decision was when I had decided to have a hospital birth. Now, I am not by any means knocking hospitals or any women who     has decided to or has had to give birth in a hospital, this is merely my story of birth and was my decision. I thank that voice for giving me the push to decide to have my daughter at home. I labored in a blow up fishy pool I bought on amazon and delivered a posterior baby girl in her own nursery after 20 hours of labor with the support of amazing midwife’s, my husband and my Mom.

     

    So, while although this voice, this Jackie-logic has been tamed, although I may not at this time rent a car in a foreign country and off-road leaving the car on the side of the road as I hike to a Gibbon conservation project, this logic and this love for life is still very much there.

     

    And as I write this, I am getting the itch to do something a bit out of the ordinary. Last year it was a pixie cut (I know not quite as wild but I needed to shake it up a bit) and I am not sure what is in store for me yet in the coming months. But what I do know is that I have some pretty kick ass memories and will continue to push the limits, baby in tow. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if Aurelia is as bold as I was, I am okay with it. For I dream of a life full of passion and adventure for her. (Okay, there may be a few things I would like her to forgo- but those are secrets I will never tell.)

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    Lifestyle, Travel

    Where to donate this holiday season: 2017

    Legos, and bicycles; baby dolls and puzzles; coffee mugs and graphic teas… it feels good to be able to purchase a gift for someone that you know they will love. But, this holiday, you could take the opportunity, forgo that cute mug that says, “Monday’s suck,” and put that $15 toward providing emergency transport to a woman in labor. Check out a few places I have donated to this holiday season and learn a little about how to narrow down you search.

    Near and dear to my heart: Challenging Heights

    Almost 5 years ago now, I moved to Ghana, West Africa to work for an organization called Challenging Heights, an anti-trafficking and child’s rights organization. While there, I witnessed first hand that a grassroots organization can be run well, and really do great work.  Challenging Heights is an all-star in my eyes. The entire staff is Ghanaian except for a few interns and one or two positions that rotate an international candidate every year or two. This staff is incredibly knowledgable and experienced in child’s rights and the trafficking issue on Lake Volta in Ghana. CH has programs in rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and also offers support to the family of the trafficked child. I could go on and on about the amazing programs and how well this organization runs but please check them out yourself. This staff and this organization changed my life and I am hoping maybe this holiday, you would consider changing the life of the children they work with. To donate visit, http://challengingheights.org/donate/

     

    Circle of Health International: This organization has been on the ground helping moms, babies and pregnant women in crisis zones, working with local clinics on the ground to provide needed health care, supplies and training. In their 13 years they have trained over 7 thousands health care professionals, delivered $800,000 worth of supplies and in just 2016 they have served over 212,000 refugees providing prenatal, neonatal and reproductive care. Domestically, in Texas,  they have trained 385 nurses and healthcare providers on identifying human trafficking survivors. Check them out at http://cohintl.org/our-work/impact and follow them on instagram @circleofhealth. 

    Partners in Health International: This long time running organization has an excellent rating on charity navigator and has established long term relationships with organizations on the ground in areas hardest hit by poverty, building health systems and strengthening communities. Partners in Health has programs providing mental health care, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and is currently crowdfunding to build a maternity ward in Pleebo, Liberia. Check out their amazing work and consider that $100 can provide a safe, attended childbirth in Sierra Leone where 1 in 16 women will die in pregnancy or childbirth. https://www.pih.org

     

    Locally base in Southeastern CT and RI:

     

    Alliance for Living:  Alliance for Living is based in New London, CT and provides support and care for people living in the area with HIV/AIDS. They have programs in case management, housing, medication adherence and nutrition. For many people living with HIV/AIDS in the area, Alliance for Living has provided them with the needed support and services to maintain a happier healthier life. http://www.allianceforliving.org/our-services/

     

    WARM Center: Located in Westerly, RI, is the only comprehensive shelter services to adult men and women in South County, Rhode Island and Southeastern CT and is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They also have a soup kitchen that provides lunch and dinner to the public 365 days a year. Other programs include: work Readiness and Culinary Job Training; Attire for Hire and a children’s summer lunch program. Check out their site for a full list of what they do for the area. http://warmcenter.org

     

    Wherever you decide to give this season, pick a cause, do your research and feel confident in your giving. And give the best gifts you ever could.

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    Family, Travel

    The Sling Diaries Volume VII: Kinship

    I can still feel the heat, the way it wrapped itself around me like a thick blanket, the sun so bright it gave me squinty eye lines and tickled my nose with freckles. And I can still hear the late night Afro beats- it made even the shyest dance till the early morning hours. But what I can remember most, what I am still trying to recreate back in the States, is community. Relationships, kinships, friends and family. I am married to a Ghanaian man. I have three husbands and their wives are my rivals. Their children are also my children and my daughter belongs to them as well. Kinship in Ghana is far different than the family culture we are used to in the States. The USA is more of an individualistic society, while Ghana thrives on community. Its deep traditions are not always practiced in modern times, but they remain a reminder of the extended family bond and that we are all for each other.       

                                                                     

    So while although my husband’s brothers do not actually play the role of a husband in my life, nor are my sister-in-laws truly my rivals, we still do share a different family bond, a closeness that is rooted in traditions and a communal way of survival.

    When I lived in Ghana, I lived in a multi-family home. There were constantly people around, at least 15 children from newborn to teen and about four different families. Many children were living with their Grandmothers while the parents were out working in neighboring towns, another normalcy in Ghana. Some children lived with their aunty and uncles, whoever in the family was financially well enough to send the kids to school.

    I never had a moment of peace and quiet when I lived in Ghana- constantly surrounded while I tried to sit and read, wash my clothes or eat breakfast. Sometimes I loved it. Other times I would have just burst. But I find myself, as I sit in my cute little individual family home, just us, surrounded by other families in their own homes, just them, longing for that community.

    The community in Ghana has taught me a great deal of what I hope for while I raise my family. I try and channel the closeness of Ghanaian families in how I treat others, how I open my home and how much alone time I spend. I have learned to say “yes” more when people ask for favors and to reach out in times of need.

    Sometimes living in the states I can feel a bit isolated but I still have hope and continue to search for my own little tribe of like minded mamas, asking ladies out on mom dates and stopping people with toddlers in the store. For it truly takes a village and if you don’t live in one, you gotta create your own.

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    Travel

    5 more ways to spend less so you can travel more

    We buy less so we can travel more. We drive one car that cost us under $5,000, we buy what we need and we rarely go out to eat. It can be quite simple, but it is a lifestyle change.

    Sleeping in a tent in the Serengeti- tired after a long day searching for a cheetah; stuffing chocolate croissants from Paris in my carry on; the smell of hyacinth in the fields of the Netherlands- my priorities have never been to have more things, it’s always been to see more places. I’ve been able to save thousands of dollars on an entry-level salary while still paying my bills (cell phone, student loan, rent, utilities, groceries) and still traveling. In my twenties I would travel and come home with an empty bank account and a few tears but now that I have a family, a little bit of a cushion is a must.

     

    Here are some of my tips on how to spend less so you can travel more:

     

    1. Prioritize. What makes your heart soar? What luxuries do you need and what can you live without? For my family the answer is good food and travel. Those are the places we spend the majority of our money. Maybe for you it is going to the movies every week, having coffee out or buying the latest tech gadget. Whatever it may be, make a list of what your desires are and be honest. Once you have that list go back through and think, what could I cut out of this to save a little more money? It is okay if you want to buy a $4 coffee out, but maybe cut it down to once or twice a week. Pocket the extra cash in a jar or a savings account and watch it add up.
    2. Buy less stuff. Simple. While having a beautiful wardrobe is something I would love to have, it is not a priority for me. Buying a few staple pieces for your wardrobe that you will wear a lot is a great way to save money and also cut down on the “what the heck do I wear” issue. I would much rather be wearing my jeans that I have had since college while on an airplane on the way to a fabulous destination, than be on the ground with the latest threads and no travel plans.
    3. Meal plan and eat leftovers. I only have 3 mouths to feed at the moment so my grocery bill may not be as high as yours, but something that saves me the extra spending is meal planning. I go to the grocery store typically once a week with the occasional extra trip for a craving or something we ran out of, like bananas. Before you go to the store, create a list for the week of what you will cook and the ingredients for the recipes. Try and include everything you may need for a week’s time so that you don’t have to make a second or third trip. And don’t forget leftovers! I always up the recipe to include extras for lunch and dinner the next day. Hugeeee money saver. I love Minimalist Bakers recipes. Simple, easy, healthy.
    4. Look at the big things. Do you have a monthly car payment? Any credit card debt with huge interest? Do you have an expensive gym membership or are you spending tons on wine? When you write out your finances you may be surprised on where you are spending and that perhaps, it is an unnecessary expense. If you are driving the newest car and it’s costing you $300 a month plus the extra cost on insuring a new car, it really adds up. For my family, a huge car payment is a great place to cut cost. We have a Subaru that we love, is great in the winter, safe and reliable. Another idea is to look at your bills that have interest. It may be a good idea to take some savings, or save especially to pay off this bill. If you have high interest or interest at all, that is money that could be yours.
    5. Free money. Save your coins, cash in your bottles and keep track of your frequent flyer miles. My husband saves all of his change so he can buy shoes. He loves new shoes and every few months manages to save hundreds in coins alone. That is an expense that may have come out of our monthly income. And as far as frequent flyer miles, this is basically free travel! I flew from Ghana to Tanzania round trip on my built up miles. And you don’t have to do anything but travel to get those perks!

    In the end, the best thing for you to do is to write down your expenses and look at where you can cut costs. You will be shocked at the money you can save. Those little tiny savings add up to the trip of your dreams.

     

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