First day in Ecuador drawing to a clos– busy and exhausting, especially given my state of being travel-weary from yesterday.

We arrived late last night at the Manna house in Sangolqui, which is a small town outside of Quito. The house is wonderful– tile floors, lush courtyard with tropical foliage, chickens clucking around (5 new chicks!), avacado trees, plants growing inside. There are currently 8 summer volunteers (what I am) and maybe 6 PD’s (program directors) living here.

This morning we went into the town in which Manna is based, Rumiloma, and visited “The Library,” where they teach English classes, cooking classes, and house the teen center. The bus ride over was harrowing– though I had a great time playing peek-a-boo with a precious little girl across the aisle (I made friends with a stranger-child… no surprise…). The Library is a great spot– I observed an intense ping-pong match which eventualy produced a squished ball. Feeling bad for the kids, a friend (who isn’t a Manna volunteer, he was just hanging out… he was Dutch, I think?) and I tried to do the ‘ol use-a-lighter-to-reinflate-the-ping-pong-ball trick. We ended up creating a flaming ball which the guy proceeded to throw across the room. To the kids’ delight. Good start? Although, I would say it was a step in realtionship building as they covered for us when someone came in the room and asked why it smelled like something was burning. No se, lo siento!

I spent some time in an English class after that, helping a few adults and one teenage boy with their speaking skills. I think their English is about as good as my Spanish, so we got by just fine.

After that we explored the area around the library, most notably this couple’s business that serves as a hub for local organiz farmers (a la Charlottesville Food Hub?). They buy produce from small farmers, sell it online to people who can afford it in Quito, and then take the bus to the city once a week to deliver the food. They also sell quinoa products (cookies, sweets, pasta… weird, right?) that they buy from other people that produce them AND they sell biodegradable cleaning and hygiene products that are produced locally. All of this is sold online, link to follow once I get it. It was really interesting to talk with them about the organic movement in Ecuador (or lackthereof) and their pioneering efforts in that little village. We’re going to have opporunities to work with them in thier garden– I’m excited to learn more.

Now back at Manna Hosue head quarters. Just looking a Spanish placement test for our Spanish classes went through an orientation for the program. I’m feeling pretty excited about the weeks to come, but still sort of at a loss as to what they will look like. This blogpost is pretty atypical in that it is mostly informative and less reflective. I think I’m suffering from information overload. I plan on publishing more profound things later one. Until then!


Ecuador is on the equator. Like in the middle of the earth. Like Lord of the Rings. Get it? Maybe the closest  I’ll ever get in this lifetime. Maybe aside from New Zealand…

At any rate, I’ll be en route to the country of the Amazon, Andes (not the mints, although a girl can dream), and the Galapagos (who’s trying to ride a giant tortoise?? ) on Friday. I’ll be doing community development work with an organization called Manna Project International, living in a town called Sangolquí, and working in surrounding villages for a month. Computer access will be limited, but I am going to try to chronicle major events via blog. SO 21st CENTURY! My preparation has included vintage clothes shopping in Atlanta (?) and listening to a lot of Manu Chao (not from Ecuador, but Spanish speaking).

Of late, I’ve been enjoying the leisurely life of a Stay At Home Mom. This life includes but is not limited to:

1) 4.5 hour expeditions foraging throughout 6 four-story warehouses at Greenfronts furniture in Farmville with Avis
2) Celebrating Violet’s first birthday (note the ambiguous absence/presence of the long-awaited ducky cupcake)
 3) Monday night swim meets with the Spring Run Sharks! (shameless promotion)
4)  Impromptu trips to Atlanta to visit the cousins and the penguins with one little red headed boy (eat your heart out, Charlie Brown!)


 5) Glorious Famous A’s, Fork in the Alley, and Wildflour feasts, trips to the farm and to Floyd, and general revelry in the glory of SWVa.

Adios for now, sweet Roanoke, hasta pronto. On to Ecuador!

this i believe

Have y’all heard the NPR program, “This I believe”? It’s a really wonderful project, calling people to share essays expressing whatever guides their life and what they believe in. Reading/listening through the featured pieces was moving and challenging– I highly suggest it. As part of a class, our professor asked us to write our own “This I believe” essay, >250 words. A short time to express your guiding principles, right? I could have written 10 of them!

It’s such an important process, I think– intentionally engaging with yourself, challenging yourself, questioning and developing beliefs. Why do I live my life? And how? Those are questions I want all my close friends to answer for me. I think in my ideal world, everyone would walk around with their “This I Believe” statement taped to their forehead. I suppose that would take all away of the rewards of developing a friendship with someone, but I think, even with a lot of my close friends, I don’t totally know what they’re all about.

Just an important conversation to have, I think. Life is short, go deep with people.

Here’s what I believe. I would love to hear what you believe, too.

My senior year of high school, I think I could count on two hands the number of times I wore pants. I’m a dresses’n’skirts kind of girl– it’s just who I am. I was presented with a difficulty upon moving to Charlottesville, though, because I had to reconcile my clothing identity with my newfound love of riding my bicycle around town. The solution: skirt-biking made possible by biker shorts. It’s the perfect combination of functionality and flair– this I believe. Wearing biker shorts under my skirts has opened up a world of possibilities: I can bike freely, sit cross-legged on the floor, twirl to my heart’s content, all the while wearing what I want to wear. This might seem silly, but I think a lot of people need bikers shorts: the confidence to move freely as you are without worry about your skirt flying up in your face. To twirl and celebrate life. To be freed from the necessity to choose one extreme or another (skirt? pants? skort?!). Because I have to bike around in this life! I don’t have time to let my necessity for skirts (It’s who I am! I’m a skirt-girl!) to be limited by pedestrians who point and stare (do you see many other people biking around in skirts these days?). I have places to get to and people to love on. What I’m trying to say is, we need to wear our skirts– whatever they are– and do it with confidence and gusto. Throw your head back and let the wind whip you hair AND your clothing– this freedom brought to you by biker shorts.

I got to do a cool thing this past weekend. By the grace of God, I was in Oberlin for the reception of one of my best friends from Oberlin into the Episcopal Church. Last year at school, Dana started going to church with me and, as I have, fell in love with the warmth and welcome from the Episcopal church. To be honest, she got even more involved in the church than I did– singing in the choir, going to student lunches, getting on a buddy-buddy basis with the cutest kids in the congregation. Christ Church Oberlin became a community of support and love for her, just because she showed up one day. And I was reminded how effortless these sort of things can be– I asked her to come to church with me one Sunday. And I told her that the Episcopal Church had been great for me. It was that easy. We were graced with the presence of Bishop Hollingsworth of the Diocese of Ohio last Sunday who preached about this very thing. Sometimes, he said, all you have to do is ask.

And I was reminded, too, about how much I love my friends at Oberlin, particularly Dana on this trip. Indulge me in a quick anecdote about Dana, because I think it’s pretty telling: last January, due to bad weather, the team was locked up in our condos for most of our Florida training trip. I took it upon myself to Enneagram (google it) my teammates which involved a pretty lengthy question and answer process. I read twelve statements, and you counted up the number of statements you agreed with. The personality type that had the most tallies was “your type.” What struck me, though, was when Dana, who had eleven out of twelve check marks in the “perfectionist” column said, “It is bad that I’m really pissed off I have eleven and not all twelve??”

So that’s Dana. And no, she’s not perfect, but she is one of the few people in my life who I can say with full honesty that she is the absolute best she possibly could be. Dana does not half-ass or slough off. She is never lazy and always on top of her work. And I  mean this– the girl works harder and with more conviction that anyone I’ve ever met. And for that, I admire her. I don’t think she always thinks of herself this way, but she is a great role model– I certainly thought so last year as a freshman. Dana approaches everything with such passion.

What I was struck with even more, though, is the passion with which Dana approaches her relationships. I instantly adored her because she was so wide-open– I felt like I knew her in a day. And that’s really how she is when she feel comfortable– she gives herself to you 100%. Dana is the type of person you always want to have on your side– she is the embodiment of what it means to be a good friend. Sometimes functioning as a moral compass, other times just making you laugh your hiney off.

For goodness sakes, thank God for this girl. It was a blessing and an honor to present such a beautiful person. The Episcopal church just got that much better.

bon voyage, mami!

Too many good things to day about one of my dearest friends, Jessica. She’s on her way out the door this Sunday–living abroad this semester in Costa Rica! So happy and excited for her, I had to send her out on the highest note possible… blogging about her.

Probably the best place to start is here: a few of our nearest and dearest recently began compartmentalizing Jessica’s maaaany different personalities. She’s really an enigma. But that’s why I love here. Given the circumstances, time of day, amount of coffee, Jessica can be any of the following (and she reserves the right to flip without a moment’s notice, thankyouverymuch):

1) Jessica: typical, run-of-the-mill Jessica. Maybe talking about ecology. Or food preparation. Still sassy, but slightly toned down.

On her birthday. Looking like typical Jessica.

2) Jess: her eyes get really big and sort of glaze over, she might have an eager little grin. Or sort of tap the tips of her fingers together. Or cradle a container of powdered sugar (please note exhibit A, seen below). This state occurs most often when she’s talking or hearing about something she likes. And by something she likes, I mean food. Probably dessert. Or pizza.

Aww, she looks so hungry. And sweet. Good thing there are beignets to placate the hungry mother.

3) Jesco: a personal favorite, probably what she is best known for. This is ranting Jessica. Lots of expletives. Starting with “f”. Talking about something stupid someone did, how stupid someone is (I’ll refrain from names to protect the victim’s identities). This is Jessica in full heat. Hand motions, violent movements, sweating. It’s a sight.

Yeah, you're scared. Looks like she's about to rip out your intestines and strangle you with them. Right?

I had to do 2 for Jesco. It's just too good!

4) Yessica: when you say this one, you sort of have to swish your hips and get a little gleam in your eye. This is Latina Jessica. When she comes out, all the Costa Rican women are going to be like, “Yeah, she’s like us.” This is sassy, sexy Jessica. Puts on her red lipstick and va va VOOM instant Latin flavor.

Ai yai yai, mamacita! Shout out to Kate in this one.

Can you tell this girl wears her emotions on her sleeve??

Ok, in all seriousness though, this woman has made me laugh more than anyone else this past semester. We are so very different, but we understand each other. We can joke and make fun of one another, but at the end of the day, Jessica puts up with my shit. And listens to me to. And never asks me to be someone else. In fact, I think more than anyone else, I’ve never felt I had to change for her. She makes me so glad to be me.

I have never met anyone so passionate in my whole life– I really can’t wait to hear how she touches people in Costa Rica. Because Jessica, you’ve touched my life. So much. I don’t know what I would have done without you this semester.

Peace be the journey, sweet girl. And for goodness sakes, come home to me soon!

You can check out her exploits on her blog as well!

Last Friday I played “Amazing Grace” on an out-of-tune piano in a house in New Orleans. The piano, like all the other furniture in the house, had been pushed the middle of the room and covered in plastic. The house hadn’t been a home for some five years– since Katrina. Mr. Anthony, the owner, stood outside below the second-story window. I could hear him singing softly along with me. He, too, knew all the words by heart. Mr. Anthony is a character– a 76-year-old Korean War veteran who has lived on Gen. Pershing St. in New Orleans since 1971. I think he might be able to recount the entirely of United States history from 1609 to present. I also think he could talk without ceasing for 24 hours. With a mind like a steel trap and an eagerness to share his story, Mr. Anthony immediately won my heart.

He had suffered a stroke years ago and had just finished rehab just before the storm hit. His left side doesn’t work as well as it used to, though that doesn’t inhibit his adventuring about the neighborhood.

He asked me to play for him and I obliged, of course. I realized, though, that he wasn’t going to stand behind me and read the music over my shoulder like most people do when I play hymns. Mr. Anthony can’t get in his house anymore– the storm had destroyed any handicapped accessibility and left only steep stairways. So he stood ten feet below me and looked up into the window of a house that had been his home for forty years.

I was struck with a sudden shamefulness that I should be able to barge into his house and his life like I did. I was ashamed that I could walk around in his living room and uncover his piano and look down on him. I was ashamed that I scaled those steps twice-daily during our week there to use the bathroom. A convenience for me that was an impossibility for him– and I didn’t think twice about it until I saw him down there. He, on the outside, and I inside.

At the end of the fifth verse I went to the window and noticed he was walking away, no longer singing. I wonder if he thought what I did as I stood up there in the window and watched him cross the yard.

My friends and my mom and I were blessed with a winter break long enough to take a week’s mission trip to New Orleans. We worked at the Anthony’s by day and explored the city by night– it was a dream of a week.

One night we went to a church service at a lovely parish called St. Anna’s. Above the door on the way out was this sign:

and I think that became the theme of the week for me.

We heard the heartbreaking stories of how the money given by the government couldn’t fix everything– homes were left unfinished and unlivable, like the Anthony’s. And I think I learned that we really have to depend on one another. Government money can’t heal the broken hearts in New Orleans, no matter whether all the houses finally do get rebuilt. We were there to rebuild the Anthony’s deck, but also to remind them and the rest of the New Orleanians that we had not forgotten about them. To remind them that we still believe in the interconnectedness of humans and the necessity to come to our brothers and sisters in times of distress.

I was reminded that the mission field is not a place that you find when you go on a trip– it is this wide world the Lord has given to us. We are the stewards to the earth and to one another. This vast expanse is ours to tend.

Mr. Anthony’s wife told me that next time we came down to New Orleans she would cook burgers for us on her grill on the deck we built. And maybe Mr. Anthony would play the piano.

Almighty God, I know you, but sometimes I don’t understand you. Sometimes, like now, I think it’s better for me not to even try and understand. In times of heartbreaking tragedy, when the innocent are brought low and the light of the world seems to have gone out, I reach for solace in the knowledge that death is not an end, but a change. That is the hope we are offered– not a hope earned or deserved, but freely given by you, Creator. But trying to reason with that or explain it to myself brings me only to dead ends. I trust the souls and your ways with them.

When people die, I think, they get absorbed by the people they love. As their souls and their bodies pull apart and their spirits move outward into the illimitable beyond, I think they pass through us. And leave traces. Embedding themselves in our own hearts. I think the ones we love who we walk with on this earth live with us, but those that have passed on live within us. At least that’s how it is for me. Remember what e.e. cummings (my favorite) says about that?

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

Maybe he was talking about a living-breather he knew, but that poem, to me, is about the dead. I bear my daddy’s heart. And am never without it. And whether any of this is true for you or not, I can tell you that it is the Truth for me. Maybe you don’t believe in souls or angels. But I know them to be true. Each to each, I suppose. But when we’re lonely, I think we all know there is someone else there– there is some other heartbeat next to ours and some other breath between our breaths. Not and end, but a change. A change from form into formlessness, from life to presence.

I miss my dad– I think about him every day. When he was here he walked with me– beside me– and was a person present in my journey. But now I know– I know— he lives within me. And maybe that’s just a little bit closer than before. Not any better, but just a change.

To Lucy: you are so loved and always will be. Thank for continuing to live with those who love you. And you’ll be there until the time when we are all together again, a day that I will meet with arms outstretched. Amen, alleluia, alleluia!